17 – 29 SEPTEMBER 2014
By Jason Boyce
This trip was run with the intention of scouting the Gabonese mainland, including important sites such as Lope National Park, Loango National Park, and the river courses around Lambarene Town. Specific target birds were African River Martin, Grey-necked Rockfowl (formerly known as Red-headed Picathartes), and White-crested Tiger Heron. Some primates, including mandrill, chimpanzee, black colobus, and western gorilla were also targeted. The trip was very successful, and after a fantastic meeting with Gabon’s premier field ornithologist Patrice Christy we are looking forward to running a 2015 Gabon and São Tomé & Príncipe tour.
Day 1, 17 September. Libreville area (Meeting with Patrice Christy)
Ian, David, and Kay arrived the afternoon of the 16th, while I arrived late that evening. Birding started on the morning of the 17th around Hôtel Le Feuillage, where we stayed for two nights. We managed to get good visuals of some suburban birds such as Carmelite and Reichenbach’s Sunbirds, Woodland Kingfisher, Grey-backed Camaroptera, and the lovely Red-headed Lovebird with its bell-like flight song. A small patch of grassland across the road produced Blue-breasted Bee-eater and Chattering Cisticola as well as a flock of Orange-cheeked Waxbills.
We took a short drive through town to the nearby Arboretum, where we were introduced to a couple of the local forest-dwelling species. After a very confiding African Thrush we managed to see Blue-breasted Kingfisher at close range through the foliage. Calls of Green Hylia, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, Klaas’s Cuckoo, and Blue-headed Coucal echoed through the Arboretum, and further on some Splendid Starlings and Black-and-white Mannikins were kind enough to show themselves. Upon leaving we bumped into our first Rosy Bee-eater, with which we were very pleased! Little did we know what was yet to come…
That evening we were fortunate enough to share a drink with the legendary Patrice Christy. We got some valuable information from him and were now more than ready to tackle this amazing country.
Day 2, 18 September. Libreville to Lambarene
We left early that morning for a five-hour drive to Lambarene. A couple of stops along the way produced a few roadside species such as African Green Pigeon, Olive Sunbird, and a pair of African Pied Hornbills displaying on the very top of a tall nut tree.
Lambarene town is quite picturesque, with the beautiful Ogooué River running right through it. Of course the riverside birding was excellent, with our first views of Grey Pratincole, African Skimmer, and the gigantic Goliath Heron, as well as Orange Weaver. We stayed at the famous Schweitzer Hospital, where German-born Albert Schweitzer established the hospital in 1913. In its time its medical research unit was one of the leading scientific institutions in Africa, with a focus on ending the scourge of malaria.
Day 3, 19 September. Lambarene to Tsam Tsam
We birded the morning session within the Schweitzer Hospital grounds and were justly rewarded with excellent views of our first species of Nigrita: Grey-headed Nigrita. It was first heard calling, and after a few minutes of scanning the canopy we were treated to great views of two individuals. Other species that put in good attendance were Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Black-winged Oriole, and great raptors like Lizard Buzzard and African Harrier-Hawk.
Out trip to Tsam Tsam, an Ecotourism site run by Heather Arrowood of the non-profit organization OELO (Organisation Ecotouristique du Lac Oguemoué’), was by boat. We departed, luggage and all, down the Oogoué River in a south-easterly direction to Lake Onangue. Birds and scenery along the way were breathtaking! Flocks of Grey Parrots, Piping Hornbills, and Rosy Bee-eaters were regular, while seeing our first African Finfoot of the trip was just a treat!
After we had settled ourselves in at camp we took a boat ride to some nearby quiet ponds – these ponds are host to small flocks of the brilliant Hartlaub’s Duck! A couple of flocks were spotted on the shoreline, and both Black and Cassin’s Spinetails circled in the skies above.
Later that evening we took another boat trip to look for some night activity. Vermiculated Fishing Owl is often recorded here, but we weren’t so lucky that night. We did manage, however, to see Pel’s Fishing Owl, White-backed Night Heron, and Water Thick-knee.
Day 4, 20 September. Tsam Tsam Birding
In a cool but humid morning we took a walk in the forest patches on site. Upon entering the forest at the water’s edge we managed excellent views of Shining-blue Kingfisher hunting nearby. One of the first forest species that we bumped into flushed from our feet: Bates’s Nightjar! A decent look through the leaves at the bird perched on an open branch allowed for a few quick record pictures too. Further on the forest trail we recorded Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, and Senegal Coucal.
The forest opened up into a grassy clearing, which produced Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Long-legged Pipit, and Quailfinch. As we approached a different forest patch the guides suddenly stopped and alerted us to the sounds of nearby western gorillas! Unfortunately, none of us managed any views. Later that day a different forest offered Violet-tailed Sunbird, Cassin’s Malimbe, White-browed Forest Flycatcher, and the excellent Fire-crested Alethe clambering in low tangles.
Day 5, 21 September. Tsam Tsam to Ombooué (Hotel Olako)
A long boat ride from Tsam Tsam to Hotel Olako in Ombooué did not produce too much in the way of birds, as we needed to make sure we arrived in good time. However, we did manage excellent close-up fly-bys of Palm-nut Vulture, White-throated Swallow, African Skimmer, Little Tern, and Grey Pratincole.
Once we arrived at Olako, a short stroll in the gardens produced Slender-billed Weaver, Blue-headed Coucal, and Green-backed Woodpecker. A boat trip out to Fernan Vaz was well worth the effort, because not only did we find Cassin’s Flycatcher and a dark morph African Finfoot, but also the star bird, White-crested Tiger Heron!
Day 6, 22 September. Loango National Park
Our full day at Loango National Park was one of the most memorable days of the trip. An early start in an open Land Cruiser, traveling from Ombooué town, meant that we could witness the sun rising over the landscape on our way to Loango.
The boat safari in Loango National Park was excellent; close-up views of Royal Tern, Black-casqued Hornbill, and Rosy Bee-eater once again were lovely.
We arrived at our lunch spot, and as we were walking out from the back of the campsite we realized that we were no less than 15 meters away from an African forest elephant. A thrilling experience!
Other wildlife that we encountered today was putty-nosed monkey, white-collared mangabey, African rock python, slender-snouted crocodile, and Nile monitor.
Day 7, 23 September. Ombooué to Lambarene (not planned)
The following morning early we were out again in the gardens and town, finding the likes of Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Black-bellied Seedcracker (Seed-destroyer – this was our inside joke), Woodland Kingfisher, and a gorgeous Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat.
We had planned to go to Port Gentil in order to catch the ferry to Libreville and then the night-train would take us to Lope National Park from there, but things did not go according to plan. We were initially assured that there would be space on the ferry, but when we tried to book in advance it was already fully booked. We ended up taking the boat back to Lambarene, with Pel’s Fishing-Owl en route, where we spent one more night at Schweitzer Hospital.
Day 8, 24 September. Lambarene to Lope National Park
The morning was spent preparing for a long drive to Lope National Park and wandering the gardens of the hospital. A good breakfast was also had. Later that day we met our highlight of the day, a Congo Serpent Eagle, en route to Lope.
We arrived at Lope that afternoon around 3 p.m., so we had some time to enjoy birding around the lodge. Some of the more regular savanna birds were seen; they included Tawny-flanked Prinia, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, and some lovely Copper Sunbirds.
Day 9, 25 September. Lope National Park
The morning’s birding around the Lope Hotel area was very productive. The grounds of the hotel look over the Ogooué River, and not only did we see another African Skimmer but also had good looks at a pair of Rock Pratincole. Bates’s Swift was a welcome sight over the hotel grounds too; this bird has a very restricted range, but it is easy to see here. Other birds of interest were Brown-eared Woodpecker, Double-toothed Barbet, Black-necked Weaver, and Grey Tit-Flycatcher.
Later we took a short drive into the northern sections of the park. We encountered Black Bee-eater, Yellow-billed Oxpecker on some African forest buffalo, Copper Sunbird, Fan-tailed Grassbird, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Black Saw-wing, and African Pygmy Kingfisher.
Day 10, 26 September. Lope National Park to Mikongo
Late that morning we made our way to a special camp in the heart of Lope, Mikongo. En route we made a few stops for the likes of Bristle-nosed and Grey-throated Barbets, Sabine’s Puffback, and a fantastic party of noisy Great Blue Turacos, but Scaly Francolin was only heard,
Mikongo camp is a few wooden cabins in a clearing in the forest. Both Black Saw-wings and Forest Swallows gliding above us on arrival were an awesome welcome.
As a special treat a Fraser’s Eagle Owl was found roosting in the camp, after we were alerted to the chatter of Little and Ansorge’s Greenbuls.
Day 11, 27 September. Mikongo Birding
We set off early in the morning on a long journey in search of the mythical Grey-necked Rockfowl. It is quite a long walk to get to the roost/nest site, and during the walk we bumped into a few excellent species: Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Black Cuckoo, Blue-billed Malimbe, Chestnut Wattle-eye, White-crested Hornbill, Rufous-sided Broadbill, Buff-throated Apalis, and the stunning Yellow-billed Turaco, while the song of Chocolate-backed Kingfishers filled the forest. As we were nearing our lunch spot we heard the call of Black Guineafowl. With some patience and the guide’s incredible field skills we managed to observe this seldom-seen species through the foliage. What a pleasure!
A beautiful eight kilometers of primary forest trail later, we arrived at the nesting spot of the rockfowl, a well-crafted cup attached to an overhanging rock. Unfortunately, no bird was seen – we decided to leave that for another trip.
Some of the other wildlife we encountered was black colobus, grey-cheeked mangabey, African forest elephant, and a freshly-used western gorilla nest.
Day 12, 28 September. Mikongo to Lope Hotel
Knowing that today would be the last day to spend in the forests of the Mikongo camp area and Lope National Park, we needed to be out early, keeping our eyes and ears open for anything new! The first two new additions were right within the camp on top of a tall dead tree: Blue Cuckooshrike and Violet-backed Hyliota. The morning also yielded some other impressive birds on our walk out – these included Fraser’s Sunbird, Eastern Bearded Greenbul, White-thighed Hornbill, Western Oriole, and Fraser’s Rufous Thrush. Western Nicator was heard singing but today could not be located.
In the late afternoon we arrived back at Lope Hotel.
Day 13, 29 September. Lope Hotel to Libreville
The last day of an epic trip arrived all too soon, but a very memorable trip it was. This day was spent traveling back to Libreville just in time to catch flights back home.
Thanks must go to Ian, David, and Kay, who were really excited to see some magical birds and managed to keep their spirits up and the laughs coming, even despite some really tricky circumstances. Thanks to Heather Arrowood (OELO) for excellent hospitality and brilliant accommodation and food at Tsam Tsam. And so, after many a lifer for all participants, we are itching to get back to this fantastic destination, and hope to see you there too.
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.