Gabon, Sao Tomé & Principe
Mikongo, Lekoni, Ipassa, ST: Lago Amelia, Mt. Carmo, Principe

September 2016

 

- Pre-departure planning
- Visa
- Money
- Things to take
- Itinerary
- Mikongo
- Lekoni
- Ipassa
- Lago Amelia
- Mt. Carmo
- Principe


- Triplist of George Wagner

You can download a Garmin GPS file of most waypoints and tracks here
- Garmin GPS file












Gabon seemed to me the most exciting African country to visit after having been to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, The Gambia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and South Africa. It has two of the most impressive African Bee-eaters and it is the place I hoped to see the Red-headed Picathartes. Before I started looking to details, I also thought this to be the country to see both African Pitta species as it seemed the most fitting looking at distribution maps. To my surprise no report mentions seeing these birds. Apparently they are very difficult and one does not know good breeding sites. Also I was a little surprised to read that all trips by the major tour-companies and probably half of the independent travellers misses the Picathartes. So this seemed by no means a sure thing.....

My personal targets for this trip were the Picathartes, Rosy and Black-headed Bee-eaters, White-bellied Kingfisher (one of the last of the African Kingfishers I needed) and Bare Cheeked Trogon. Priorities were a little different with my companion George Wagner. He had not been to Cameroon but had been to Ghana and had seen the Rosy Bee-eater

During this trip due to difficulties with our timing we reset these targets to replace the Rosy Bee-eater (which is easy in Ghana) by the endemics of Sao Tome and Principe. Having missed the Picathartes and Trogon in Cameroon and realising the Black-headed bee-eater is the most elusive of the two Bee-eaters, with no known sites outside of Gabon. It seemed that the Black-headed was the most important. I also missed White Bellied Kingfisher in Ivory Coast and Cameroon as well as Bare Cheeked Trogon in Cameroon. As others we also had no records of the Pitta's so my list of African countries to visit in the future seems have to grown a little after this experience.

Our timing to go to Gabon was in hindsight most unfortunate. Just three days before we went, the country almost headed towards a civil war. There were elections and these were probably rigged by the sitting president Ali Bongo. Most local people did not except the results that pointed Bongo as a winner by a fraction of a percentage because he lost in all provinces but his own and in his province was supposed to have won by a landslide of nearly all the theoretically possible votes. This outlined the worst possible conditions to travel to an African country at that particular time. We arrived when the state of emergency was called on the nation and there was no internet, curfew, all banks closed and restricted travelling. Just one day before we arrived there were serious riots with deaths and the parliament building was set on fire and the army bombed the opposition building. Most people would probably have aborted their plans to go through with a trip in such uncertainties. However we both are quite experienced travellers and managed with some trouble to reach all but one of our destinations and I personally saw my most important birds. It appeared that the army held firm grip on the people and most of the remains of the riots were already cleaned up (there were marks of many tyre-burnings). We did not manage to arrange our trip to Loango NP because of this trouble and this lead to rearrange our schedule to have more time for the endemics of Sao Tome and Principe instead. We initially intended to include these Islands but now we had a little more time at some sites and enough to make sure these Islands were also done properly.

I was happy with the result. Managing to see the birds that would not make it necessary to return to this country that is reputedly the second most difficult country to get a visa for and also one of the most expensive in Africa. Also we managed to see all but one of the critically endangered species on the islands. The one we missed was the Principe White-eye and we dipped the Principe subspecies of the Thrush which required even more time than we had. The latter is not split by all taxonomists but probably will be in the future.

Especially missing out on Loango NP was most regrettable. I would certainly stress to include it in your trip if you go. It is one of the most impressive wetlands of the world and holds a list of mouth-watering species that makes it arguably the most important site of Gabon.

Ideally I would adapt the itinerary of this trip to shorten the visit to Lekoni, Ipassa and Sao Tome and Principe by a few days to have at least 4 days in Loango NP. This was also what we planned but fate decided against us.

Contact information is marked red

Pre-departure Planning

With so few reports of independent birders and mostly old information this seemed like one of those trips to travel the old-fashioned way: just go and see where one ends up.

With the internet down just before we could travel we had just one indication that someone was expecting us. Well ahead of going we were not able to contact people for Ipassa and had sent a few dozen of e-mails with no response or bounces. We did however get two responses of which one turned out very valuable. The guide Ghislain Ngonga for the Mikongo area in Lopé NP turned out reliable and very helpful to get us to the right trails and without him we would have had no chance of seeing the Picathartes. ndjibadi@gmail.com

With the Loango Lodge recently closed (which used to be the place were birders used to go) new possibilities are sought. We tried the cheaper and “next doorGavilo lodge. After some e-mails We got in contact with the owner who is a Doctor. He at first told us because of the unrest in the country he was not sure he would be able to receive us. These lodges need to be prepared for visitors 15 days in advance. Fuel, food, people everything needs to be transported from Libreville. With tourism practically limited to the few tourcompanies it seems that there is not enough demand to keep a lodge going. The connection to get there is: Local flight from Libreville to Port Gentil (twice a day), long boat ride from Port Gentil to Omboué, followed by 4WD transport to the lodge. This makes it also a very expensive place to visit. Count on at least 90.000 CFA per person per day, excluding boatrides (these could be up to 200.000 to get to the best birding site) and 4WD transfer (100.000 going and returning to the lodge from Omboué). From the lodge most trips are done by boat and some of the best places are still hours from the lodge so are very pricey. If you want to try this here are the contact details:

cliniquesosmedecinslbv@yahoo.fr

DOCTEUR FRANÇOIS NDELIA SOS MEDECINS ET PROPRIETAIRE DE GAVILO

TEL: +241 07 40 40 80 / 06 25 08 88

BP :436 LIBREVILLE - GABON

When we were close to going there we received a message that despite the settling down of the unrest he was still not able to receive us. Around that time there were still restrictions as we found out when we were stopped by the police going to Lekoni. That may have been because the village of the president is located along that road. I believe however that the Gavilo Lodge is still a good option to try if you go there.

After we got back from this trip we found out that Rockjumper had decided to try another alternative to visit the right habitat around Loango and went to Lambarene then hired a large boat to near-by Tsam Tsam Lodge on Lake Oguemoue for two nights. From there they went by boat to Omboué for one night and one morning to the Mphive channel. Then back by boat to Port Gentil and flight back to Libreville.

For Ipassa we had no idea at all if we were able to get there. We were fortunate that Ghislain provided us with a phone number and name of someone to contact: Carine: +241 04 05 43 12 We called once we were in Makokou and to our pleasant surprise Carine was able to arrange everything for the next morning for by Gabon standards good value for money. Since we were not able to go to Loango we already stayed a day longer at Lekoni and now stayed also longer at Ipassa and had more time for the Islands. Ipassa has a huge capacity so it is probably not necessary to phone beforehand but with so little tourism in this country it might not be a bad idea to contact Carine before you go.

A good preparation goes together with the largest collection of birdsounds that you can find. Thanks to a wonderful and long awaited iniative one can now find a fast growing database of sounds to be downloaded at:

http://www.xeno-canto.org/asia/browse.php

For this part of the world the Macaulay library is also very useful:

http://macaulaylibrary.org/search.do

There are some tools on the internet that will allow you to grab the sound file straight from the soundcard of your PC. The best free tool for this is: “Audacity” If you have copied the Lame dll to the right directory you will be able to create mp3 files. As soon as you press play on the website you can convert it straight back into an mp3-file pressing the recording button right after the announcement to get pure soundrecordings which you can also polish, filter, amplify etc. Cooledit does a similar job.

For more information to plan your itinerary have a look at:

https://www.cloudbirders.com/tripreport

The book: Birds of West Africa; Nik Borrow & Ron

https://weather-and-climate.com/average-monthly-Rainfall-Temperature-Sunshine-in-Gabon

The best time to go there is supposed to be from late September onwards for chances to see the African River Martin. However monthly rainfall figures rapidly go up from this month from less than a 100 mm a month to more than 350 mm a month so you should make up your mind for this dilemma. We did not see the Martin at Ipassa and were not able to get to Loango so we missed this enigmatic bird. We argued a little before we left about the best time. We were not sure about the chances for the Picathartes. Probably September is not the best time to see it. Little is known about the bird but suspected is that it stays around the breeding sites throughout the year. To me it is still a huge mystery why none of the tour-companies make any mention of this bird. To me personally it is definitely in the top 10 of all African (if not the world!) birds to see. It is stunningly beautiful, colourful and elegant with a shape and markings that make it look like it is not from this world, it is one of the most enigmatic of all birds together with its only relative of the upper Guinea area. It is very secretive and shy which makes it challenging, it is relatively big and its habits are unique and mysterious. It is quite simply one of a handful exceptions in the bird world that has all the merits to make it one of the most wanted to see. Maybe these tour-companies want to keep this bird as a speciality for their Cameroon trips. The other reason might be that the honeybees which are a nuisance are considered to be too much of a problem to guide groups to the place. Since I missed the bird in Cameroon (lack of knowledge when and where to see the bird quite a long time ago) this trip for me was all about the Picathartes. Seeing it was immensely thrilling and delightful.

We had the best possible weather at all places (clouded but dry) except for Mt. Carmo (heavy rain most of the time) on Sao Tome and half of the time on Principe.

Visa


It is tedious and there are no certainties you will get a visa for Gabon. There is an internet service set up but unfortunately this service does not have the facilities build in to meet the requirements. The service allows you to upload two items: passport photo and passport data page. But the requirements include a proof of booking with details where you will stay. Their helpdesk usually replies by e-mail that your request is denied because you did not include the proof of booking. In my case they told me to reapply. Reapplying seems of no use because it will be denied stating that there is already an application with the same details. I started off trying for a multiple entry but after two denials tried for a single entry and finally after a few e-mails where I replied attaching a PDF from a single night booking at Booking.com in french (Booking.com gives you the opportunity to print it in french) for Libreville I got my Visa-approval form. George trying this in the US was not so lucky trying to get a multiple entry visa. He had to make use of a Visa service in Washington DC and had to pay a lot more but received multiple entry visa for 5 years.

The easiest way to get your proof of booking is to book at Booking.com. We would have liked to stay at the first nights at the Tropicana but unfortunately we could not get an e-mail address to contact them. We settled for the Hibiscus Hotel at Boulevard the Triomphal for one night (65 euro for a room with a double bed) which seemed the only fairly cheap hotel bookable at Booking.com.

Getting a single entry visa means trouble if you intend to go to Sao Tome and return to Libreville. Custom officials are notorious for being unreliable or unreasonable at many African borders. Not having a Visa or a Visa-approval form means serious trouble. There are recent examples of people who went with tour-companies but still were put on a plane back home. I knew I was in trouble since I had to get back from Sao Tome on a single entry visa. I planned the return on the same day as I had to fly back to Holland and luckily they let me through after a little bit of a hassle. They confiscated my passport until check-in time for my flight back home but the officials were actually friendly and helpful and gave my passport back when it was time to check in. There was a complication with my knife since one has to take the luggage to check in through the security zone. They confiscated my knife and gave it back when a police officer guided me with my luggage and passport to the check-in. The police officer put me in front of the queue, ordered the airline to check me in and guided me back to the passport check commanding the officer to let me through back to the gates. The major problem seems to be that certain officers do not know how to deal with this problem and indeed it seems a hassle for themselves.

Communication

Our problems with organising this trip started when we found out that Mistral Voyages which independent birders have used as a ground agent in the past, had closed their office in Libreville. Their head-office in france told me this after the bounces by e-mail. We were not able to contact Patrice Christy which certainly will make your trip much more successful. This would also reduce language problems. Mistral Voyages used to be the way to contact Patrice Christy.

This meant that we had to do all the hard work ourselves without knowing anything beyond the rough location of the major birding destinations. This also complicated the travelling a bit since our skills in french are limited.

Communication is only in french. So be prepared. It would be hard for an independent birder to travel there if one does not speak french unless you get a guide like Patrice.

Bring a mobile phone as it is useful to contact local people when there is no help from local people that are willing to call. In some places the reception is bad and there is no single provider that is useful for all of Gabon so ask locals if you are buying a local SIM card.

Tent
Necessary for Sao Tome. It could be useful in the Mikongo area if you do not carry a musquito net and or are allowed to camp near the very site for the Picathartes. We did not ask because managed to see the bird quite easily at the second nesting site we were brought to that is one and an hour brisk walking from the station of Mikongo.

Mosquito net
Useful but not essential when sleeping at Mikongo. There are huts but no beds. I decided to use my net but pitching up a tent in the huts is also a possibility.

Sleeping bag:
Useful while sleeping in the tent at Sao Tome and Mikongo. At Lekoni and Ipassa there are comfortable beds.

Insect repellent
Useful for most sites and it seems essential for Ipassa since it keeps the horseflies away. 50% DEET does the trick but it did not seem to help enough against the bees at Mikongo. There is some kind of chigger and also a small fly that bites that it seems to work against.

Mosquito Head-net
It could be useful to use this at Mikongo. The most troubling are the honeybees that will crawl into every gap and hole they can find to lick the salt of your skin. They have reported to be a serious problem to see the Picathartes which requires patience and sitting down for some time. I brought it but did not use it.

George, who went a day after I did, to the best site told me that the masses of bees where overpowering not allowing him to stay a minute longer after he saw the bird. He used his net but found 9 bees inside his head-net, and was stung many times.

The bees could be the other reason why tour-companies are not going for the Picathartes so be warned. It requires some determination and flexibility of mind to not be distracted by the bees all the time.

Bring something to bind your trousers and sleeves from preventing bees to crawl inside. I again brought this and did not use it. Once at a site to have chances to see the Picathartes I was too excited to prepare for anything. But I had several bees in my pants and managed to get them out miraculously without being stung. I doubt if you will be as lucky as I am so be prepared to being stung and one should not take the risk to go there if you are allergic to bee venom.

Anti-malarials
I brought Malarone and used it mostly for Mikongo and Ipassa. At the time we were there, the rains had not started and Mosquito's did not seem a major problem.

Visa Credit Card
Getting cash money seemed a problem. Visa seems the most important card to take. I did not manage with my Mastercard/Cirrus but there should be possibilities to use it so I would bring it.

There seemed to be a problem with certain American Visa Cards.....George comments.

Mobile Phone
Useful. Most phone services are mobile so especially if you speak french it is very useful to call the local people. Navigational app Sygic (paid version) seems to do a better job than the free Mapfactor app that I usually use. We travelled by public means so did not really need it. This time I did not buy a local SIM to be able to call because with my limited french I prefer to take time to deliver the message to a local and have them to call. But not all locals do call with their own phones and may ask you to pay for phone-credit.

Money

We anticipated some problems due to the state of emergency when we arrived. We however expected we could change money at the airport. This was possible but only by a local walking around with wads of money. At the time we did not know how the notes should look like, what the rate was and if we were ripped off or not, so we changed only little. We were surprised we could not change cash US dollars at banks. Most banks do also not have ATM's other than the Visa kind.

It is best to bring a lot of cash in Euro and a Visa credit card that is issued in Europe. I brought a lot of cash in Euro but George's dollars seemed to be useless until we got to Sao Tome and unfortunately his Visa credit card seemed to be almost useless as well so we had to revert to cash in Euro several times when paying for our stays in advance. All of our stays in Gabon we payed in advance and found the people we needed to deal with (Gislain for Mikongo, Carine for Ipassa, Antonio for Sao Tome) trustworthy. In Sao Tome we payed half in advance and half afterwards in 3 different currencies to get rid of our last local money.

Gabon is a very expensive country to visit. At our time of going there the rate was 609,80 Euro to get 400.000 CFA out of a Visa ATM machine. I am not sure if that is the limit but it is the highest amount that I got with the single transaction fee.

We spend a little over 3000 Euro each and my flight was 865 Euro travelling by Turkish Airlines which was the only airline that sold budget tickets. The flight-times were quite bad with a long stop-over in Istanbul. If you go independent do not expect to get your budget below this and you probably have to add more than 1000 Euro if you would go to Loango for just 3 days but it seems worth it if you have the time.

Itinerary

3-9-2016

Amsterdam- Istanbul- Kinshasa-Libreville

Travelday

4-9-2016

Libreville

Stuck in Libreville due to closed banks and adapted train schedule. Trains leaving in the morning instead of evening (probably due to curfew)

5-9-2016

Libreville - Lopé

Train left hours late, went very slowly arriving at dusk

6-9-2016

Lopé village - Mikongo

Transport by 4WD arranged by Gislain; Immediately tried for the Picathartes at first nest-site.

7-9-2016

Mikongo

Second nestsite Picathartes

8-9-2016

Mikongo - Lopé

Birding along road. George to Picathartes

9-9-2016

Train: Lopé – Franceville; taxi: Franceville - Lekoni

Travelday

10-9-2016

Lekoni

Full day at Lekoni

11-9-2016

Lekoni

Full day at Lekoni

12-9-2016

Lekoni; Lekoni- Franceville

Morning at Lekoni. Afternoon transfer to Franceville with stop at site Black-headed Bee-eater and stop at bridge near Franceville

13-9-2016

Franceville - Makokou

Chose to travel by road instead of Train and 4WD

14-9-2016

Ipassa

In morning to Ipassa station, birding main track

15-8-2008

Ipassa

Birding main track; afternoon boat ride

16-8-2008

Ipassa

Morning boat ride; afternoon main track

17-8-2008

Ipassa

Whole day in forest

18-8-2008

Ipassa; Ipassa - Makokou

Early morning birding main road and back to Makokou

19-9-2016

Makokou - Libreville

Travellingday by bus

20-9-2016

Libreville

Staying at Tropicana arranging tickets

21-9-2016

Libreville – Sao Tome

Flying to Sao Tome. Contacting Antonio. Staying at ...?

22-9-2016

Lago Amelia

Taxi to end of the road (Bom Sucesso), climbing to Lago Amelia

23-9-2016

Lago Amelia

Full day Lago Amelia

24-9-2016

Sao Tome - Principe

Flight to Principe, walking around San Antonio

25-9-2016

Rd. to Joachim

Walking road/track to Joachim and back

26-9-2016

Principe – Sao Tome

Flight back to Sao Tome

27-9-2016

Mt. Carmo

Taxi to Palm plantation – tracking to forest-edge. Heavy rain, staying at ruins of plantation house

28-9-2016

Mt. Carmo

Full day at Mt. Carmo heavy rain

29-9-2016

Mt. Carmo – Sao Tome

Morning Mt. Carmo afternoon track back to river, taxi to sites for Sao Tome Kingfisher then back to Sao Tome town, staying at house of Antonio

30-9-2016

Sao Tome – Libreville – Istanbul

Flight back to Libreville and flying back home

1-10-2016

Istanbul - Amsterdam

8 hour stop in Istanbul too nagged to go to Bosporus

Detailed Site information and birds (names follow Clements):

Some birds were not confirmed by both of us, mainly because we split up or because a bird disappeared before both could confirm it. Those are marked with asterisks. MB=Michiel de Boer; GW=George Wagner.

Lopé village:

Some birds around the Annex hotel:

White-throated Greenbul, Swamp Palm Greenbul, Petit's Sawwing, Long-legged Pipit, Black-faced Canary, Woodland Kingfisher, African Pied Hornbill, Orange Cheeked Waxbill, Snowy-crowned Robinchat, White-chinned Prinia, Tawny Flanked Prinia, Mosque Swallow, Common Bulbul, African Thrush, Blue-headed Coucal, Red-eyed Dove, Pin-tailed Wydah, White-headed Lapwing, Water Thicknee (at night), Turnstone (weird to see this bird in the middle of the village).

When we left we had Bates Swift at the train station.

Mikongo

We were able to contact Ghislain Ngonga by e-mail well before we were going: ndjibadi@gmail.com

l'Association des Eco-guides MIKONGO'VISION

 

Parc National de la Lopé, GABON

 

Tél : (00 241) 06 79 57 69 / (00 241) 07 74 03 97.

 

I received a call two days in advance from Ghislain from a different number: +241 02 81 55 89 so if you can not contact him on his official numbers try that one.

The first trail at the top of the map is actually the train as I put my GPS to see if we were close to the station we had to get out. The trail down is the 4WD track to the Mikongo camp.


He quoted us a price of 235.000 CFA for 2 nights and 2 days for one person. He reduced this to 215.000 CFA after some bargaining. The price includes: guide (Ghislain himself and an assistant), park fee, accommodation (huts without beds), food and transport by 4WD to the camp and back.

Ghislain led us as requested after we had lunch to the site for the Picathartes. Soon after we left camp we heard noises of Mandrill. Ghislain asked us if we wanted to see them. Of course we would! I missed this most amazing, rare and restricted of the large primates in Cameroon where I only heard it and saw traces of its existence. Soon after we had excellent views of an enormous large group. We estimated them to be hundred or so!! We saw at least 6 full grown males that were very colourful and that all could have been alpha's. But an seemingly endless parade of young ones, females with carrying their baby’s were crossing logs to pass a stream. It kept on going and going. Lopé NP I later read is known have the largest groups of this threatened primate. But we never knew how large these groups can be.

After 2 hours of hiking we arrived at rocks we climbed up and he told us to sit down in between the rocks with no possible view of the ground below. Both of us realised our chances were almost not existing, sitting down where we were supposed to sit. Further out with better view would scare the bird according to Ghislain but from where we were sitting I felt we had no chance. I did not put my GPS on for the first site so it is not shown on the map. Ghislain told us this was the way to see the bird, so we tried with no success. Since I knew there were other nest-sites I asked Ghislain to bring me to another site the next morning. He told me it was a longer hike but that appeared not so. After passing by an old nest-site the next morning (old nest-site on the map) we soon got into a very nice spot with good view on the rocks and immediately I felt this was a much better place to have chances so my adrenaline started rushing. < photo > Only seconds after that we already saw a bird hopping over the rocks getting out of view. But it provided a brief good view when it stopped looking back at us. I was as thrilled as never before! After 10 minutes motionless waiting the bird appeared again in view for 5 minutes and allowed me to study it in detail. Amazing! What a bird! The head looks like it is designed by a futuristic artist. With all these uncertainties before we went I felt I made the right decision to go through with this trip. This alone was already worth the whole trip for me. When I came back to camp obviously George was not amused as he decided he would take his chances birding around camp. He made up his mind and insisted that next early morning before breakfast he would go for the bird even though we had to leave that day. Ghislain was not happy to do this so we had to insist. Again George also managed to see the bird. On their way back to camp they surprised a small group of Lowland Gorillas! The silverback came out of a tree as fast as nearly a free fall and fiercely shouting a warning.

When we left camp our vehicle stopped at the gate and I saw what George meant. We saw 4 Gorilla's. Three young ones and an adult female. The female was also in a tree and dropped down as fast as a free fall also fiercely shouting. It was a highly impressive and memorable sight!



Birds seen:

Hadada Ibis, Bat Hawk, Fraser's Eagle-Owl**, Mottled Spinetail, White-bellied Kingfisher, Black Bee-eater*, Blue Cuckooshrike*, Spotted Greenbul*, African Harrierhawk*, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill*, Eastern Bearded Greenbul*, Forest Robin*, Fire-crested Alethe*, Narina Trogon*, Yellow Footed Flycatcher*, White-browed Forest Flycatcher*, Pale-breasted Illadopsis*, Pygmy Kingfisher*, Shining Blue Kingfisher*, Great Blue Turaco*, Palmnut Vulture*, African Pied Hornbill, Piping Hornbill, Black-casqued Hornbill, Spotted Honeyguide**, Brown-eared Woodpecker, Gray Parrot, Chestnut Wattle-eye, White-spotted Wattle-eye, Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike**, Western Black-headed Oriole, Shining Drongo, Black-headed Paradise-Flycatcher, Gray-necked Rockfowl (Red-headed Picathartes! one possibly two seen), Square-tailed Sawwing, Lesser Bristlebill, White-bearded Greenbul, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, Little Greenbul, Blackcap Illadopsis**, Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush, Violet-tailed Sunbird**, Mountain Wagtail.

Mammals:

Mandrill (80-100!); Lowland Gorilla (twice a small group); Tree Hyrax (heard); Red Duiker (2); Lord Derby’s Anomalure* (1) (Flying Squirrel at night spotlighting); Probably other primates that were not new to me.

*MB
**GW





Lekoni

This is the only site outside of national park that is a known birding site. Also it is a particular corner of Gabon that has atypical birdlife for Gabon standards. It is mainly savannah with some dense and small patches of tropical rainforest.










The track is probably not drivable in a normal car and one needs a 4WD. But the site that we visited with the distance from the road to the savannah and best forest patches could be done walking easily. So one could take a normal car or taxi to drop you off at the road and pick you up at the end of the day.






When we visited this site, it seemed that the grasslands had been burned very recently. Everything was green but short grass and obviously had been burned not long ago (see picture).


This probably made us missing out on the Francolin. Also the area did not seem as productive as we hoped for. We are however not sure if we went to the best site. From descriptions and maps of other reports is seemed a little off. The (rocky) crater and lake (see picture) seemed to fit but it seemed that maybe the tarmac road that brought us to the track had cut through the area making the track much shorter.





The Lekoni Hotel organises 4WD rides in the area. For the short rides that we needed we thought we did not need a 4WD since the track from the tarmac road till the point where the driver told us he could not go further was quite short and could be done by foot.



After two visits we were a little disappointed with the result as we still missed a couple of typical birds for this area. We were not sure we were in the right place so we told our driver to try a different road that might lead us to a different forest patch. He took us to the 4WD track towards the village of Edjangoulou. He drove until we were passing through a forest patch and we birded around there for two mornings. Some of our birds were seen only there: Black-backed Barbet (Ssp macclounii), Black-backed Scimitarbill, Woodland Pipit which were birds we were hoping for. We dipped the local Weaver. Both of us maybe had glimpses but just not quite enough to be sure.

 




To get there it is simply a matter of getting to Franceville by train or road or air and then public transport over a very good road to Lekoni. The traffic to Lekoni is very limited and public transport is going when full. So if you have limited time it is a good idea to ask around at the bus stop. If there are a handful of people a vehicle will go but it will not be cheap.




(sat. image march 2011)


Along this road just a few kilometers from the village where the president Bongo was born (renamed Bongo village) is the best known site in the world to see the Black-headed Bee-eater. Nearly half of the birders missed this bird at this site though and for us without a local guide we thought our only chances to see this bird were slim. Nevertheless we found the spot to see it so now one does not depend on tour-companies to see it. We considered ourselves very lucky to spot a bird while driving 100 km/h through an area that does not strike as typical and it was actually quite some distance beyond the village of Bongo: GPS: 1°36'37.00"S ; 13°54'42.16"E. There is a clearing on both sides of the road and coming from Bongoville there is a fairly large termite mount right on the edge of the left side of the road. We had the bee-eater on both sides of the road in trees around small ponds that are not visible from the road. But once even on the wires at the side of the road. If not seen from the road. Try walking down towards the forest. Coming from Bongo village towards Lekoni on the left side at the trees at the very end of the clearing will probably provide you with the best chances. There were other nice birds around like two species of barbets and Black Bee-eater.

sat. Image feb 2012)

Birds seen:

Small Buttonquail, African Green-Pigeon, Dideric Cuckoo, Little Swift, African Palm-Swift, Black Bee-eater, Little Bee-eater, Black-headed Bee-eater (2), White-fronted Bee-eater, Blue-breasted Bee-eater*, European Bee-eater, Black Scimitar-bill, Gray-throated Barbet, Bristle-nosed Barbet, Black-backed Barbet, Black-headed Batis, Angola Batis, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Red-eyed Puffback, Black-crowned Tchagra, Four-colored Bushshrike, Petit's Cuckooshrike, Northern Fiscal, Souza's Shrike, Square-tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, Rufous-naped Lark, Flappet Lark, Banded Martin, Lesser Striped-Swallow, Rufous-chested Swallow, Black Sawwing, White-winged Black-Tit, Black-collared Bulbul, Common Bulbul, Red-capped Crombec, White-chinned Prinia, Salvadori's Eremomela, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Pale Flycatcher, Congo Moorchat, Sooty Chat, African Thrush, Violet-backed Starling, Superb Sunbird, Woodland Pipit, Short-tailed Pipit, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Yellow-fronted Canary, Northern Gray-headed Sparrow, Black-necked Weaver, Vieillot's Weaver, Village Weaver, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Peregrine*, Cabanis's Bunting*, Dambo Cisticola*, Hartlaub's Marsh Widowbird* (2 non-breeding).

 

Ipassa

This reserve is part of the Ivindo National Park. It used to be a park where tourists could start their boat journey to a camp near the waterfalls deep inside the park. The camp is deserted and seemed another example of tourism dying in this country. When we were trying to get to Ipassa. We had a local phoning from the Lekoni Hotel to Carine. She replied that we could only stay at “the house” (La Maison). This seemed a little confusing to us. We were hoping this meant we could stay at the station. To our great relief indeed this is what was meant. Tourists used to go to Ivindo to get to Langoue Bai, which is the famous spectacular clearing in the forest where herds of Elephants and Lowland Gorillas among other mammals could be seen.




We already read on the internet that the Bai is not reachable anymore unless one is prepared to pay for a very long boat ride and a long stay. To stay at the station however the price is reasonable by Gabon standards and it is so close to Makokou that Carine offered a ride for free. I think it was 70.000 per person per day for food, lodging, park and guide fees and even several hours boat trips on the Ivindo river. This seemed the cheapest and best value of all sites inside a national Park to stay. The birdlist for this place is enormous so we decided to take our time.

Try to contact Carine before you get there: Carine: +241 04 05 43 12




When we were there the station surprisingly seemed the first and only place in Gabon where people were active at a natural tourist site regardless of tourists being there. Some forestry was going on. The station offers a spectacular view over the river. The rocks and banks will produce many Rock Pratincole and a few African Skimmers.


Well before there is enough light to get good views the Spot-breasted Ibis flies near the river near this station every morning. This resulted in some of the poorest just tickable views of a bird I have ever recorded. Trails seemed to be kept open for research. It is a well maintained place that seems to have a lot of space for people to stay. We were allowed to have our own cabins, which were clean with nice beds and they were self-contained. The food is also good. We settled for dinner and lunch at the station and they prepared us some food for the early mornings. Our two guides knew nothing about birds and they did not like to go on all of the smaller trails, telling us about the danger of Elephants. One is not allowed to enter the forest on his own because of this danger. The small trails did not seem more productive than the main wide track going through the forest. We mostly birded the main track. The forest can be quiet most of the time when not in the early morning until one encounters a flock or an Army Ant swarm. We found the boat trips surprisingly unproductive. We were hoping for better views of the Spot-breasted Ibis, Maybe Hartlaubs Duck, African River Martin perhaps a Rosy Bee-eater etc. Despite the fantastic forest edges on the river which were sought out many times at close range. We hardly saw any good birds.

(sat. image Feb 2012)

birds seen:

Plumed Guineafowl, African Darter, Spot-breasted Ibis, Hadada Ibis, African Harrier-Hawk, Palm-nut Vulture, Long-crested Eagle, African Fish-Eagle, Common Sandpiper, Rock Pratincole, African Skimmer, African Green-Pigeon, Great Blue Turaco, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Klaas's Cuckoo, African Emerald Cuckoo, Gabon Coucal, Bates's Nightjar, Fraser's Eagle-owl (heard only), Sjosteds Owlet (heard only),

Little Swift, Narina Trogon*, Bare-cheeked Trogon, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Pygmy Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Black Bee-eater, White-throated Bee-eater**, Red-headed Lovebird*, White-crested Hornbill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, African Pied Hornbill, Piping Hornbill, Black-casqued Hornbill, Yellow-billed Barbet, Yellow-spotted Barbet, Willcocks's Honeyguide**, Thick-billed Honeyguide, Yellow Tufted Woodpecker*, African Piculet, Mottled Spinetail*, Cassin's Spinetail*, Gray Parrot, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye**, Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike, African Shrike-flycatcher, Western Black-headed Oriole, Black-winged Oriole, Square-tailed Drongo, Blue-headed Crested-Flycatcher, Bates's Paradise-Flycatcher, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Western Nicator, White-throated Blue Swallow, Lesser Striped-Swallow, Square-tailed Sawwing*, Honeyguide Greenbul, Xavier's Greenbul*, Icterine Greenbul*, Golden Greenbul*, Spotted Greenbul, Swamp Greenbul, Eastern Bearded-Greenbul, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, Common Bulbul, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, African Forest-Flycatcher, White-browed Forest-Flycatcher, Sooty Flycatcher, Olivaceous Flycatcher, Yellow-footed Flycatcher, Cassin's Flycatcher, Fire-crested Alethe, Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush, Sooty Boubou*, African Thrush, Johanna's Sunbird, African Pied Wagtail, Rachel's Malimbe, Crested Malimbe, Cassin's Malimbe*, Vieillot's Weaver, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Common Waxbill, Black-headed Waxbill, Western Bluebill, Pin-tailed Whydah, Splendid Glossy Starling.

Mammals: Demidoff's Dwarf Galago (1 at pre-dwan close to the river); Forest Elephant (1)




 Sao Tome

After a full day travelling by bus from Makokou to Libreville we stayed at the Tropicana. We spent the next day arranging flights to Sao Tome and changing money using the internet. I bought some anti-malarials since I forgot to bring half of my pills. We tried to arrange a boat trip to Akanda NP but failed to find people that knew where to get the boat to find the good birds. A Blue-breasted Bee-eater seen from the Hotel was mentionable.

George had sent an e-mail to Antonio our possible guide for Sao Tome. After checking the internet it seemed that he had replied recently while we were already in country without access to internet. So this was our contact for Sao Tome:

Antonio Alberto: +239 993 8315

e-mail: antonioalberto26@hotmail.com

Antonio is not checking e-mail frequently so it is probably best to send a text message to his mobile. He is a very good guide, knows his birds, never quits and knows how to improvise. He is good company and knows to arrange anything you need. We can recommend him. He does not overcharge.

He uses a weird mixture of Latin, french and English to tell you which species you are listening to:

Gionshanber = Giant Sunbird
Serinus = Principe Seedeater
Pigeon Vert = Sao Tome Green Pigeon
The two other pigeons are named by their Latin names.
Tchitrec = Sao Tome Paradise Flycatcher
Lemdove = Lemon Dove
Grand Weaver = Giant Weaver
Petit Sunbird = Newton's Sunbird

 

In Libreville it took us time to find the only travel agency that we were able to contact before we were going:

Chica Voyages: CHICAVOYAGES@YAHOO.FR

We arranged return flights at their office. The flight-time changed before we left so give them a mobile number to reach you.




With our non-existent skills in the Portuguese language we thought we could try to contact the local Navetur travel agency to help us to call Antonio. They fortunately spoke English but it appeared they had their own guides which they told us were biologists and were hoping we would hire their guides. We opted for Antonio instead hoping that would be cheaper and at least he knew the sites and the birds which was all that mattered. Antonio spoke french, a little Italian but almost no English. We managed to reach him and he was straight away available even though we initially asked for his services 2 or 3 days later. He met us within 10 minutes and we began to plan our itinerary in detail. It seems that Mt. Carmo is the best place to see the difficult birds like the Fiscal, the Grosbeak, Shorttail and the Ibis. The weather is usually the problem which makes the birds hard to get. When there is a lot of rain the Fiscal and the Grosbeak are the biggest problem. According to Antonio Mt. Carmo is easier to get to than the other sites and the weather is usually a bit better therefore is the better choice. Lago Amelia is the better place for the Giant Sunbird and since the weather is usually much better, offers a chance for the Grosbeak and better chance for the Scops Owl. The other birds are not the problem. The Kingfisher is best on the way to Mt. Carmo. We decided to spend two nights at Lago Amelia then fly to Principe for a short stay and back to Sao Tome to go to Mt. Carmo for 4 nights.

Because there was time in the mid-afternoon we dumped our gear at a local cheap hotel of Antonio's choice and used his services with a taxi to try for the savannah in the north.


The savannah seemed in poor shape and we doubt that at that time it was the best place to find the typical birds there. Most of it was very recently burned down by farmers.

Birds seen:

Sao Tome Weaver*, Sao Tome White-eye, Sao Tome Prinia, Common Waxbill, White-tailed Tropicbird, Bronze Manakin, Cattle Egret, Western Reefheron (white morph), Yellow Billed (Black) Kite, Common Moorhen, Whimbrel, Calidris spec. (American), Laughing Dove, Little Swift, African Palmswift, Newton's Sunbird, Yellow Fronted Canary, Southern Masked Weaver, Golden-backed Bishop, Southern Cordonbleu.

Lago Amelia

Check the map for a waypoint for the best stretch of road to find the Giant Weaver. It seemed to like orange flowering trees in this time of the year and although it can be found on the way down from Lago Amelia we had a lot of trouble finding two birds until we found a better site along the main road were we saw a few everywhere there was a tree with orange flowers (September).

Antonio has some personal assistants one of which is a taxi driver. He drives you up to Bom Sucesso (according to Google Earth) which is marked on this map as “start”. From there it is climbing by foot for a few hours until you get to a kind of viewpoint which is the camp ground. It is quite close to a radio tower that when we were there annoyingly has a loudspeaker calling out every babbling on a radio that seemed to be used to socialise. Luckily it quieted down when we went for the Scops Owl that came right up to the camp-ground and showed very well.

If the weather is fine you would probably have seen most common birds by the time you get to the camp. From there one has chances for the Grosbeak and the Scops Owl and the Giant Sunbird seems fairly common around the camp too.

The Sao Tome bronze-naped Pigeon was only seen once much further down in the plantations closer to where Antonio lives.

Birds seen:

Black Kite, Maroon (Sao Tome Olive) Pigeon, Sao Tome (Bronze naped) Pigeon, Forest (Lemon) Dove, Sao Tome Green-Pigeon, Sao Tome Scops-Owl, Sao Tome Spinetail, Little Swift, African Palm-Swift, Sao Tome Oriole, Sao Tome Paradise-Flycatcher, Sao Tome Prinia, Black-capped Speirops, Sao Tome White-eye, Sao Tome Thrush, Chestnut-winged Starling, Newton's Sunbird, Sao Tome (Giant) Sunbird, Principe Seedeater, Sao Tome Grosbeak, Southern Masked-Weaver, Giant Weaver, Sao Tome Weaver, Common Waxbill.


Mt. Carmo

Needless to say that you will need a guide to get there. The way we went up this part of the mountain that is named after a strange very steep enormous rock that is striking feature in the landscape.







Antonio's taxi brought us up to the heavily guarded gate of the palm plantation (palm-oil). At first it seemed as we had a serious problem as they would not let us through. Antonio spoke to the guards and then took out his mobile to call. He said to us: "No problem, two minutes". After few minutes the guards let us through. We drove for a few kilometres through the plantation. Then we reached a river. The taxi was able to drive through the river. But right after crossing it stopped. We had to go on by foot on a muddy trail. After only 100 m we already had to cross a stream that was too deep to keep boots on but just shallow enough to use rubber boots. Antonio carried me across several streams after this of which one was too deep even for rubber boots. After 2.5 km or so we reached the end of the plantation and a not very obvious entrance to the thick forest.














Right after the entrance of the forest we noticed a fairly large concrete old building that was collapsed but still had a few edges to shelter and then it started raining heavily. We decided to camp under the edges of the building instead of the actual camp further inside the forest. It hardly ever stopped raining after that. The birding was very tough here. We used the one moment when the rain eased down to track up to the site for the Fiscal and scored! The Grosbeak is usually closer to camp. Our base camp was decided to be the concrete building because of the rain (Campmc on the map). If you are more lucky with the weather you might go up to the actual camp inside the forest closer to the best sites for all birds (Camp on the map).

(image january 2009)


Birds seen:

Sao Tome (Olive) Ibis, Black Kite, Whimbrel, Sao Tome Pigeon, Forest (Lemon) Dove, Sao Tome Scops-Owl, Sao Tome Spinetail, Newton's Fiscal, Sao Tome Oriole, Sao Tome Paradise-Flycatcher, Sao Tome Prinia, Black-capped Speirops, Sao Tome White-eye, Sao Tome Thrush, Chestnut-winged Starling, Newton's Sunbird, Sao Tome Sunbird, Sao Tome Short-tail, Principe Seedeater, Sao Tome Grosbeak, Giant Weaver, Sao Tome Weaver,



Driving back from Mt. Carmo we stopped at a river crossing to see:

Sao Tome (Malachite) Kingfisher, White-tailed Tropicbird, Long-tailed Cormorant, Striated Heron

 

Principe

At Principe it is just a matter of walking around to see the endemics. We found two tracks worth going. The track just after crossing the river to the village Bela Vista and the tracks branching of the tarmac road from the airport to town (Santo Antonio) towards the village Joachim.




We stayed at a cheap grotty and not very clean place in town, just after the bridge over river. (first pink house on the right after crossing the bridge). Nothing like the luxury that most birders enjoy. For the birds one does not need to go to the Bom bom resort. We birded the track to Bela vista just on the east side of the river (follow track along river see map). It is signposted right after the bridge coming from the direction of the airport and town.

Sat. Images 2008

We had some difficulty finding the Principe Glossy Starling as most birds we encountered were Splendid Glossies. But found several on the road towards Joachim (see map). This is also were we had our Sao Tome Bronze naped Pigeon. Surprisingly the Velvet Mantled Drongo (which will probably not be split in the near future) seemed one of the least common birds. We only saw it along the tarmac road at the hairpin bends going up the hill towards the airport from town. The forest along the road to Joachim looks good and probably is the best place to see the usual endemics. For the White-eye and Thrush one need to go on an organised track or spend at least 3 days. The weather was not good even at sea-level and we had little time so we did not go for them.



 

Birds seen:

White-tailed Tropicbird, Western Reef-Heron, Cattle Egret, Striated Heron, Black Kite, Common Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Sao Tome Bronze naped Pigeon, Lemon Dove, Laughing Dove, African Green-Pigeon, Sao Tome Spinetail, Little Swift, African Palm-Swift, Principe (Malachite/White-bellied) Kingfisher, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Gray Parrot, Velvet-mantled Drongo, Dohrn's Thrush-Babbler, Principe Speirops, Splendid Glossy-Starling, Principe Glossy-Starling, Principe Sunbird, Western Olive Sunbird, Principe Golden-Weaver, Common Waxbill, Bronze Manakin



At the airport just before flying back to Sao Tome we had to our surprise:

Principe Seedeater




Triplist of George Wagner

You can download a Garmin GPS file of most waypoints and tracks here
- Garmin GPS file