Birding Tour Gabon: Complete Gabon — Rare Birds and Apes
Complete Gabon: Rare Birds and Apes
Gabon is a relatively undiscovered gem and hosts a great many difficult African bird species. This French-speaking country is located in Equatorial West Africa and complements our “bulge of Africa” tours much further to the north-west (Ghana being the usual destination we run in that part of the world, along with Senegal). While Gabon has no endemic birds, there are several tantalizing species such as African River Martin, Rosy Bee-eater, Vermiculated Fishing Owl, and various other Congo-basin species that are arguably more easily found here than anywhere else.
This tour is specifically timed to coincide with the arrival of the highly localized African River Martin into Gabon – we hope to encounter them breeding within Loango National Park (photo Niall Perrins).
Almost 70 percent of Gabon is still covered by pristine, primeval lowland rainforest, which is part of the appeal, and, with a country population of just 1.5 million people, these forests remain relatively untouched. The country also has a wide range of other habitats, not only tropical rainforest but also coastal lagoons, pristine beaches, large rivers and associated riverine vegetation, montane-type grasslands, and broken miombo woodland, all of which are home to a wide variety of fabulous birds. Gabon also boasts spectacular animals, and these still relatively untouched wildernesses (such as within the amazing Loango National Park, and the vast Lopé National Park) are home to the likes of(African) Forest Elephant, the striking Red River Hog, three species of crocodile, Western Gorilla and the iconic Mandrill, amongst others.
Mandrill is one of the special mammals we make a concerted effort to find on this tour
– with Mandrill trekking permits included in the cost of the tour (photo Hans Hillewaert- Wikimedia Commons).
Our well-designed, comprehensive Gabon tour visits all of the key birding sites and targets a great deal of the country’s many specials. Beginning in the coastal capital city of Libreville, we transit inland firstly to forested Lope National Park, followed by the wild open expanses of the Lekoni region and the Bateke Plateau, before moving onto the extremely wild and largely untouched forests of the greater Makokou area. The bulk of our birding will be lowland-forest-based birding, however, we will also ensure we explore some of the grasslands and associated woodland environments for a fine change. Among the many possible species, we hope to find such prized birds as Black-headed Bee-eater, Dja River Scrub Warbler, Congo Serpent Eagle, and Congo Moor Chat, amongst many other Congo-basin species, more easily sought here than anywhere else in their range. We then transit back to Libreville, and take a short domestic flight to the coastal wetlands, rivers, and surrounding forests of the greater Loango National Park. We conclude our tour here, seeking out the country’s more well-known specials, such as African River Martin and Rosy Bee-eater, along with others such as the rare Vermiculated Fishing Owl.
Unique to our tour are the unparalleled opportunities to see both Mandrill and Western Gorilla – for both of which we specially dedicate time to seeing and trekking on our tour.
Itinerary (17 days/16 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Libreville
Today is your arrival day, and you are welcome to arrive at your leisure (there are no formal plans for birding today). Following your arrival into the Gabonese capital of Libreville you will be transferred to your hotel, where the tour will begin with a group dinner.
Overnight: Libreville hotel
The splendid Black Bee-eater occurs throughout the country.
Days 2 – 4. Birding Lopé National Park
We have a long transfer on Day 2, as we head for Lopé National Park, where we will spend three nights.
We will have two full days to explore Lopé National Park (along with some time during the afternoon of Day 2 as well). This is one of the biggest national parks in Gabon, offering a mix of rivers, bush savanna, open plains, and forest. Given the size of the reserve we will only be able to cover a fraction of it; however, we will access some of the most exciting areas in the reserve. In the open areas we will try for species such as Senegal Lapwing, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Compact Weaver, and Red-headed Quelea, while arguably our biggest target will be the localized Dja River Scrub Warbler. In the forest and at the forest edges we will seek out Long-tailed Hawk, Red-chested Owlet, Lyre-tailed Honeyguide, and the superb White-crested Hornbill, among other more common species, while the rivers will see a suite of species likely, including White-crowned Lapwing, African Skimmer, and Rock Pratincole. Bat Hawks are also regular over the rivers in the evenings. We will also be sure to keep an eye to the sky for the sought-after Bates’s Swift.
White-crested Hornbills, with their amazingly long tails, frequent the forested sections.
The scarce Grey-necked Rockfowl does occur in the area; however, during the dry season (when we run this tour) it is rare and nearly impossible to see, and is perhaps more easily sought on our Cameroon tour, or in the wet season during January and February (we can arrange tours by special request). As such, we will not focus on this species during this tour. Amongst the many birds present here, we will watch out for Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Speckled Tinkerbird, African Shrike-flycatcher, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Western Black-headed Batis, Red-eyed Puffback, Fiery-breasted Bushshrike, Lowland Akalat, Yellow-lored Bristlebill, Chattering and Croaking Cisticolas, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Fraser’s Forest Flycatcher, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Vieillot’s Black and Dark-backed Weavers, Splendid Starling, Superb and Reichenbach’s Sunbirds and Quailfinch.
Not only is Lopé home to many bird species but also to populations of (African) Forest Elephant and African (Forest) Buffalo, along with a wide variety of primates, including Putty-nosed, Crowned, and Moustached Monkeys, Grey-cheeked Mangabey, Black Colobus – and most importantly, the rare and stunning Mandrill.
*We have a special activity set aside, where we undertake to track and see Mandrill within Lopé. Please note that this half-day activity is included in the tour cost.
Overnight: Lopé National Park
Day 5. Transfer from Lopé National Park to Lekoni
We will depart the fantastic Lopé National Park bound ultimately for Lekoni, a small ‘town’ in the south-eastern parts of Gabon – however, we will only reach Franceville tonight (a short hop away from Lekoni). This is a long transfer; we will be departing in the morning, and only arriving very late in the afternoon, with limited time for birding along the route.
Overnight: Franceville hotel
Black-collared Bulbul is a range restricted species that favors mesic grassy savannas on the edges of forests – and is one of our primary targets of the Lekoni region.
Days 6 – 7. Birding Lekoni and surroundings
The area around Lekoni is rather unique in equatorial Africa – comprising of most notably the higher-lying grasslands of the Batéké Plateau – a habitat zone that seems very much out of place here. Naturally, this somewhat isolated habitat hosts many unique bird species, not found elsewhere in Gabon and more characteristic of further south in Africa – such as parts of Angola and Zambia. In addition to these montane-type grasslands there are also small tracts of somewhat-stunted miombo woodland along with patches of montane forest, creating a fantastic birding environment! Arguably the most prized bird of the grassland zone is the sought-after Congo Moor Chat, which is relatively common and normally fairly conspicuous. However, not to be outdone are other sought-after species such as Finsch’s Francolin, Black-rumped Buttonquail, White-bellied Bustard,Flappet Lark and the unique local form of Rufous-naped Lark, the prized Black-collared Bulbul, Fawn-breasted Waxbill, and Short-tailed Pipit.
Where the grasslands give way to miombo-type woodlands we will focus on other species, such as the prized Black-headed Bee-eater, Black-backed Barbet, Black Scimitarbill, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Red-capped Crombec, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Tinkling Cisticola, Green-capped and Salvadori’s Eremomelas, White-winged Black Tit, Souza’s Shrike, Western Violet-backed Sunbird, Wood Pipit, Cabanis’s Bunting, and the rare and localized Black-chinned Weaver. We will also be sure to visit a few of the montane forest patches present in the area, and here we will search for species such as African Broadbill, Black Bee-eater, Blue-throated Roller, Angolan Batis, Bocage’s Bushshrike and Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, amongst others.
Overnight: Lekoni guesthouse (basic)
The scarce Black-backed Barbet occurs in the wooded portions of the Batéké Plateau.
Day 8. Transfer from Lekoni to Makokou
Following the Lekoni area, our next major birding destination is the impressive forests of the greater Makokou area (which includes the vast Ipassa Strict Nature Reserve/Ivindo National Park, and surrounds).This is another very long drive, with limited birding available along the way – though well worthwhile as we access some of the most pristine tracts of Congolese lowland forest available. The sought-after Red-throated Cliff Swallow breeds under some of the culverts on the route and will be one of our main targets.
Overnight: Makokou hotel
Days 9 – 10. Birding the greater Makokou area
We have two full days of birding, in which to explore and try to find as many of the exciting species that exist here as possible. Our time will be divided between the Ipassa-Makokou Strict Nature Reserve, Ivindo National Park, and some general roadside birding along old forestry tracks in the surrounding area.Most of our birding will be done on foot as we explore and venture down some of the paths cut into the forest while investigating calling birds and bouts of activity. Naturally, forest birding can be difficult, and this area is certainly no exception; however, with patience and a bit of luck we should enjoy a number of the area’s many specials.
An abundance of hornbills frequents the mature and relatively undisturbed forests of the greater Makokou region – here two giant Black-casqued Hornbills fly over the canopy.
The canopy and upper levels of the forest play host to some of the larger and arguably more vocal species, and we will search for the massive Great Blue Turaco along with its more ‘normal’-sized cousins, Yellow-billed and Guinea Turacos. A plethora of Hornbills occurs here, including sought-after White-thighed, Black-casqued, Red-billed Dwarf, Black Dwarf and White-crested, while Piping and African Pied are usually more common. Chocolate-backed Kingfishers call from the upper reaches of the massive trees, yet remain as difficult to see as ever. Barbets are also well represented, and the area hosts Hairy-breasted, Grey-throated, Yellow-billed and Yellow-spotted, along with a number of tinkerbirds such as Yellow-throated and Red-rumped. The deep calls of Afep and Western Bronze-naped Pigeons ring out throughout the forest, and it normally takes some effort to track these birds down. A number of Cuckoos are also present, and our main targets will feature the sought-after Yellow-throated, along with Dusky Long-tailed and Olive Long-tailed, while more widespread species include African Emerald, Black and Red-chested. Not to be forgotten, a number of Woodpecker species also occur here, and species such as Yellow-crested, Brown-eared, Buff-spotted, Gabon and Green-backed all feature. Many passerines also frequent the higher reaches, and we’ll be keeping an eye out for Red-eyed Puffback, Western Oriole, Purple-throated Cuckooshrike, Green Hylia, tiny Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, Dusky Tit, Fraser’s and Little Green Sunbirds, and all of the world’s Nigritas– Grey-headed, Pale-fronted, Chestnut-breasted and White-breasted.
Rufous-sided Broadbill is a shy denizen of the forests – though we may get lucky and find one displaying.
We will need to be quite fortunate, however, to come across the poorly known Spot-breasted Ibis, Plumed Guineafowl, the rare Black-collared Lovebird, the sought-after African Piculet, and the stunning Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike, along with the likes of Fernando Po Batis, Black-necked Wattle-eye, Yellow-capped Weaver, and both Rachel’s and Red-crowned Malimbes – but all are distinctly possible.
Species that prefer the mid-strata and vine tangles coming down from the canopy include the sought-after Bare-cheeked Trogon, secretive Rufous-sided Broadbill, African Dwarf and Blue-breasted Kingfishers, Blue Malkoha, Fraser’s Forest, Yellow-footed and Chestnut-capped Flycatchers, Bates’s Paradise Flycatcher, Gabon Batis, Yellow-bellied and White-spotted Wattle-eyes, Western and Yellow-throated Nicators, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Grey Longbill, the sought-after Gosling’s Apalis, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, and Crested, Blue-billed, Red-bellied and Cassin’s Malimbes.
Yellow-footed Flycatcher is a scarce Central African species that is not easily seen anywhere.
We will also be able to hone our bulbul skills immensely here, with a vast number of different species occurring within the forest, including sought species such as Sjöstedt’s, Ansorge’s, Yellow-whiskered, Falkenstein’s, Honeyguide, Golden, Spotted, Eastern Bearded and White-bearded Greenbuls, while other possible species include Swamp Palm Bulbul and Little, Slender-billed, Little Grey, Plain, Simple, Icterine, Xavier’s and Red-tailed Greenbuls along with Red-tailed Bristlebill.
Tangles, thickets, and bushy growth in the lower strata down to the ground play host to shy species such as Black Guineafowl, White-spotted Flufftail, Blue-headed Wood Dove, the beautiful Forest Robin, Brown-chested and Fire-crested Alethes, Brown Illadopsis, Lowland Sooty Boubou, Olive-green Camaroptera, Banded Prinia, and both Red-tailed and White-tailed Ant Thrushes. Some of the more open areas of the forest, clearings in the forest, and forest edge zones will be searched for further species such as Scaly Francolin, Grey and Red-fronted Parrots, Gabon Coucal, the tiny Tit Hylia, Mackinnon’s Shrike, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, White-chinned Prinia, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, and the secretive Woodhouse’s Antpecker.
Keeping an eye out for raptors is likely to produce species such as Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle, Congo Serpent Eagle, Long-tailed Hawk, Red-thighed Sparrowhawk and Red-chested Goshawk. These are also great areas to scan the skies for aerial feeders, and we will be on the lookout for Mottled, Cassin’s and Sabine’s Spinetails and the scarce Forest Swallow along with Square-tailed Saw-wing. Flowering trees in these zones as well as in the forest proper play host to large numbers of Sunbirds, featuring Tiny, Carmelite, Grey-chinned, Collared, Blue-throated Brown, Olive-bellied and Superb.
The grassy verges to the roads and tracks in the area host a variety of colorful seedeaters, amongst them Black-bellied Seedcracker, Western Bluebill, Black-headed and Orange-cheeked Waxbills and Black-and-white Mannikin. While here, we will also try our luck for some of the prized nocturnal birds occurring here, which might include the localized Sjöstedt’s Barred Owlet, Akun and Fraser’s Eagle-Owls, as well as both Bates’s and Brown Nightjars.
Overnight: Makokou hotel
The calls of Chocolate-backed Kingfisher ring out from the canopies of the tallest trees – these non-aquatic kingfishers thrive in the forest
Day 11. Transfer to Libreville
After a great few days exploring the impressive forests of the Ipassa/Ivindo area around Makokou, our time in the east of the country draws to a close as we make the long trip back to the capital, Libreville, so we can prepare for the exciting conclusion of this trip in the spectacular Loango National Park. This is another very long journey that will see us getting into Libreville in the early evening.
Overnight: Libreville hotel
Days 12 – 15. Birding the lush wilderness of the Loango National Park
Saving the best for last, we transfer south (via a flight to Port-Gentil) to the magical Loango National Park, where we spend four nights.
This is one of Africa’s greatest remaining Eden’s (as quoted by Time Magazine), oozing raw Mother Nature. We will spend our time between two camps located deep within the park, giving us the best opportunities to access the excellent coastal savannas, thick riparian swamp forests and vibrant lagoons that make up this wilderness. We have several key birding targets, with arguably the most important going to the highly localized African River Martin. These rare birds arrive during the dry season to breed here – and this is the specific reason why we time our tour during this period. We will visit known colonies and spend some quality time with these strange birds. The beautiful Rosy Bee-eater also frequents these more open areas, and we can often see these two special birds alongside each other. The rarely seen Vermiculated Fishing Owl is another of our major targets for the park, and we may also be able to compare it to its equally impressive cousin, Pel’s Fishing Owl. The scarce White-bellied Kingfisher, and Loango Weaver are also to be found in the swampy wetland areas, and if we’re extremely lucky, White-crested Tiger Heron as well. If we haven’t come across them already, the forested areas here are also home to another scarce and sought-after duo – Bare-cheeked Trogon and Rufous-sided Broadbill. We will also try for the localized Violet-tailed Sunbird during our searches.
Pel’s Fishing Owl (pictured) should be seen as we work the myriad of internal waterways within Loango National Park – and we will also try for the near-mythical Vermiculated Fishing Owl.
Other possible species to be found include White-backed Night Heron, African Finfoot, West African Crested and Damara Terns, White-crowned Lapwing, Forbes’s Plover, African Crake, Long-tailed Hawk, Yellow-billed Turaco, Senegal Coucal, Shining-blue Kingfisher, Blue-breasted and Black-headed Bee-eaters, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Black-casqued Hornbill, Yellow-billed Oxpecker (often on mammals), Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Grey-rumped Swallow, and Long-legged Pipit. While some of the more common and widespread species of the area include Great Egret, Woolly-necked Stork, Palm-nut Vulture, African Skimmer, Little Tern, Grey and Rock Pratincoles, White-fronted Plover, Water Thick-knee, Grey Parrot, Giant and Pied Kingfishers, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher, Swamp Boubou, and African Pied Wagtail.
Red River Hog is a mammalian target whilst we’re in the amazing Loango National Park
(photo Otomops- Wikimedia Commons).
Aside from the many birds we’ll be seeing, the park is arguably more famous for its other wildlife. Herds of (African) Forest Elephant roam freely, as do numbers of African (Forest) Buffalo (the smallest subspecies of African Buffalo). We will keep a special eye out for the spectacular Red River Hog and, on the waterways, Slender-snouted Crocodile. If we’re very lucky, even Leopard makes the occasional appearance.
*One of the main attractions on the mammalian front for us is the opportunity to track Western Gorillas – and we make special time on this tour for the group to not only see these rare gentle giants, but also get a deeper insight into their lives as we venture after a habituated group studied by researchers.
Overnight: Loango National Park (Akaka & Tassi Camps)
White-crested Tiger Heron is a rare inhabitant of Loango.
Day 16. Final birding in Loango National Park, and transfer back to Libreville
This is the last full day of the tour. We have a final morning to spend within the stunning Loango National Park, searching for any species we may not yet have seen, or enjoying our final moments with some of the iconic park species, which may include African River Martin and Rosy Bee-eater. Around midday, we will likely need to bid farewell to the park, and start our journey back to Port-Gentil, from where we will take an evening flight back to the capital, Libreville. Upon arriving at our comfortable hotel, we will settle in for one final group dinner, reminiscing about all the excellent bird and wildlife encounters we have experienced.
Overnight: Libreville hotel
Day 17. Departure from Libreville
This is your departure day, and you are welcome to leave at your leisure. Please note that there are no formal birding plans for the day, and the tour will officially conclude after breakfast.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.
Gabon is notoriously expensive, and from time to time we have to make quite major changes (but without adversely affecting the birding targets) to keep the prices in check to some extent.
‘Just a quick note today to let you know that mom (Eleanor) and I had a fantastic day with Dylan. First of all it was a great comfort to meet someone at the airport from the area who knows how to go about things. Dylan provided us with a splendid introduction day to the common bird families and antelope (plus a mongoose) at Rietvlie which was exactly what we needed after being cooped up on a plane for so long! He also capably described things about each family and then the species we were seeing. What surprised me was how knowledgeable he is about other species around the world which makes it easy for him to relate to our knowledge base. We had a splendid day talking about all sorts of things. You guys are doing everything right -Bravo! Your website came up first in a Google search and it’s very inviting which encourages an inquiry. Chris, you got back to me right away, and Dylan followed up with answers and then read perfectly what we needed. Thank you so much! I will most definitely recommend you to anyone coming to this part of Africa. Keep up the good work! Dylan, thank you! I look forward to coming back some day.’