Gabon is a relatively undiscovered gem which 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). While Gabon has no endemic birds, there are several tantalizing species such as African River Martin, White-crested Tiger Heron, Rosy Bee-eater, Vermiculated Fishing Owl, and various other Congo-basin species that are arguably more easily found here than anywhere else. The bizarre Grey-necked Rockfowl is another highly prized species possible on our route (although this species is perhaps best sought on our Cameroon tour).
We hope to find the splendid White-crested Tiger Heron on this Gabon tour.
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 such as African Forest Elephant, the striking Red River Hog, three species of crocodile, several marine turtles, and Chimpanzee, Western Gorilla, Mandrill, and other amazing primates.
Our well-designed, comprehensive Gabon tour is divided into two parts, visiting all of the key birding sites and targeting all of the country’s many specials. The first leg takes place in the coastal wetlands, rivers, and surrounding forests of the greater Loango National Park, where we seek out the country’s more well-known specials, such as African River Martin and White-crested Tiger Heron, among others. The second, longer leg has us head inland to visit some of the country’s many national parks and to explore some of the more remote eastern regions of the country. Here our focus shifts to more lowland-forest-based birding, along with exploring some of the grasslands and associated woodland environments. Among the many possible species we hope to find such prized birds as Grey-necked Rockfowl along with Dja River Scrub Warbler, Congo Serpent Eagle, and Congo Moor Chat, among many other Congo-basin species, more easily sought here than anywhere else in their range.
Chimpanzee will be searched for in the lowland rainforests.
Part I (7 days/6 nights)
Part II (13 days/12 nights)
Today is your arrival day, and following your afternoon arrival into the Gabonese capital of Libreville you will be transferred to your hotel, where the tour will begin with a group dinner.
Today we set off early, traveling south via a flight to Port-Gentil and onwards to Omboué, where we will stay for three nights. Once we arrive at our hotel on the shores of the Nkomi Lagoon we will explore the hotel’s gardens, where we may see Slender-billed Weaver, Blue-headed Coucal, and Green-backed Woodpecker. Time permitting, we can take a boat trip out to Fernan Vaz Lagoon, where we may see Cassin’s Flycatcher and if we’re lucky the sought-after White-crested Tiger Heron. Here we will also get acquainted with some of the more common and widespread species of the area, and we will be on the lookout for Great Egret, Woolly-necked Stork, Palm-nut Vulture, African Skimmer, Little Tern, Grey and Rock Pratincoles, White-fronted Plover, Water Thick-knee, Giant and Pied Kingfishers, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher, Swamp Boubou, and African Pied Wagtail.
Grey Pratincole can be seen on sandbanks in rivers in the Omboué area.
We will spend our two full days in the area birding in Loango National Park, where we will explore the labyrinth of water channels, swamps, open grassy zones, and riverine forest by vehicle and boat. The birding is bound to be exciting, and some of the main species we will try for are African River Martin, our first Rosy Bee-eaters, the highly prized White-crested Tiger Heron, the rarely seen Vermiculated Fishing Owl along with its equally impressive cousin, Pel’s Fishing Owl, the scarce White-bellied Kingfisher, and Loango Weaver. Other possible species to be found include White-backed Night Heron, African Finfoot, Royal and Damara Terns, White-crowned Lapwing, Forbes’s Plover, African Crake, Yellow-billed Turaco, Senegal Coucal, Shining-blue Kingfisher, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Black-casqued Hornbill, Yellow-billed Oxpecker (often on mammals), Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Grey-rumped Swallow, and Long-legged Pipit. Aside from the many birds we’ll be seeing, the park is also famous for other wildlife, including African Forest Elephant, African (Forest) Buffalo (the smallest subspecies of African Buffalo), Red River Hog, Slender-snouted Crocodile, and even Leopard. We may perhaps see the elephants strolling along the beaches of the park and playing in the sur, alongside Forbes’s Plover and Western Reef Heron.
The rivers in Loango National Park will be birded for African Finfoot.
We will leave the hotel early this morning, luggage and all, for an unforgettable journey by boat from Omboué to Tsam Tsam, our next overnight stop. Birds and scenery along the way will be breathtaking! Tsam Tsam is an ecotourism site run by the non-profit organization OELO (Organisation Ecotouristique du Lac Oguemoué), and the accommodation will be in cabins on stilts in the rainforest, overlooking the Ogooué River. This will be quite a long transfer, and we will arrive in the afternoon and settle in. Flocks of Grey Parrots and Piping Hornbills will be a common sight. Once settled into the camp we may take a boat ride to some nearby quiet ponds – these ponds are host to small flocks of the brilliant Hartlaub’s Duck, with Black and Cassin’s Spinetails frequenting the skies above. In the evening, weather permitting, we will take a night boat trip looking for Vermiculated and Pel’s Fishing Owls and White-backed Night Heron among other nocturnal species that we may have missed in Loango National Park.
Overnight: Tsam Tsam
With our overnight stop only a short boat transfer away in the nearby town of Lambaréné, we have most of the day available to explore the area around Tsam Tsam. This will likely see us exploring the forest patches and grassy clearings surrounding the site. Among the many birds we will watch out for in the area are roosting Bates’s Nightjar, Shining-blue Kingfisher, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, White-browed Forest Flycatcher, Fire-crested Alethe, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Velvet-mantled Drongo, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Long-legged Pipit, and Quailfinch, alongside the scarce Violet-tailed Sunbird and Cassin’s Malimbe. We may even hear or see Western Gorilla.
In the afternoon we will transfer to Lambaréné by boat, enjoying some more excellent birding en route. On reaching Lambaréné we will stay at a guesthouse near the Albert Schweitzer Hospital. The Albert Schweitzer Hospital was established in 1913 by Albert Schweitzer. Its Medical Research Unit is one of the leading scientific institutions in Africa and a highly regarded training site for African physicians. There is also good birding to be had there in the grounds, with Grey-headed Nigrita and Black-winged Oriole regular.
Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher and many others may be seen around Tsam Tsam.
Today is the last day of Part I of our comprehensive Gabon trip, and should you only be joining for Part I we will spend a bit of time around Lambaréné before departing for the capital, Libreville, where the tour will conclude in the afternoon at the airport. Some of the birds we might possibly find around Lambaréné are Goliath Heron, African Harrier-Hawk, Lizard Buzzard, Tambourine Dove, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, African River Martin (if we’re lucky!), Square-tailed Saw-wing, Golden Greenbul, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, Shining Drongo, and Yellow-mantled Weaver.
However, should you be joining Part II of the tour we will follow the same morning plan as above, except instead of transferring back to Libreville we will transfer to Lopé National Park.
Should you only be joining Part II of the tour, you will depart Libreville early in the day (please ensure you arrive the previous day) and head for Lopé National Park, where we will spend three nights. This is a long transfer, and we will arrive in the late afternoon.
However, should you also be joining Part I of this tour we will spend the morning birding around Lambaréné before we transfer to Lopé National Park, where we will arrive in the afternoon. Some of the birds possible around Lambaréné before we set off are Goliath Heron, African Harrier-Hawk, Lizard Buzzard, Tambourine Dove, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, African River Martin (if we’re lucky!), Square-tailed Saw-wing, Golden Greenbul, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, Shining Drongo, and Yellow-mantled Weaver.
Overnight: Lopé National Park
The beautiful Blue-breasted Bee-eater may be seen in Lopé National Park.
We have two full days to explore Lopé National Park, which 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 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 similar suite of species to that we are likely to have seen on Part I, 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. The scarce Grey-necked Rockfowl occurs in the area; however, it is rare and difficult and perhaps more easily sought on our Cameroon tour. Despite this, a concerted effort will be made to see this unique species. Among 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, and Black Colobus – we might, with much luck, even see Mandrill. There is a large population of Western Gorillas occurring in the reserve; however, we will need some luck to come across them.
Overnight: Lopé National Park
Bat Hawk is often seen hunting over the river in the evenings.
We will depart the fantastic Lopé National Park bound for Lekoni, a small ‘town’ in the south-eastern parts of Gabon, where we will spend three nights in our rather basic accommodation (sadly, this is the only accommodation possible in the area). This is a long transfer; we will be departing in the morning, and arriving only in the late afternoon.
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, the curious local form of 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, among many others.
Forest patches should hopefully reveal African Broadbill.
Following the Lekoni area our next major birding destination are the impressive forests of the Ipassa Strict Nature Reserve/Ivindo National Park, and to break the long drive getting there from Lekoni, we will transfer to Okondja, which is roughly half the distance. Despite this, there will still be a long transfer due to the slow roads. This will allow us some time in the morning for birding the Lekoni area for any species we may have missed before having to set off. The sought-after Red-throated Cliff Swallow breeds under some of the culverts on the route and will be one of our main targets. We anticipate arriving in the late afternoon.
We will depart our overnight stop at Okondja early in the morning, to allow us to arrive in Makokou with most of the afternoon still available. From here we will immediately set off for the Ipassa-Makokou Strict Nature Reserve, where we will spend the remainder of the day. This vast area hosts some of the country’s finest lowland forests and is considered to offer the best lowland-forest birding in the country. We will spend four nights in the area, giving us three full days to explore the surroundings and find as many species as possible. A huge diversity of species occurs here; see the following days’ accounts below for a list of the possible species.
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. 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.
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 sough-after Gosling’s Apalis, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, and Crested, Blue-billed, Red-bellied and Cassin’s Malimbes. We will need to be quite fortunate, however, to come across the poorly known Spot-breasted Ibis, 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, Blue Cuckooshrike, Forest Penduline Tit, Violet-backed Hyliota, Yellow-capped Weaver, and both Rachel’s and Red-crowned Malimbes, but all are distinctly possible.
The cute and colorful Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye.
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, while we’ll be sure to also keep an eye out for raptors 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 another chance for Bates’s along with Brown Nightjars.
The shy Fraser’s Eagle-Owl may be encountered on this tour.
After a great few days exploring the impressive forests of the Ipassa/Ivindo area around Makokou our tour draws to a close as we begin the trip back to the capital, Libreville. From Makokou this is an incredibly long transfer, and we break the drive into two days, staying tonight at Ndjole. This allows us to fit in a bit more birding, first in the morning around Makokou and then along the route, searching for any species we may still have yet to see. The journey today will still lead through excellent stands of primary forest, and many of the above-mentioned species will be possible. The river frontage around Ndjole occasionally plays host to African River Martin along with Grey Pratincole. While we do break the drive, this transfer is still a long one, and we will arrive in Ndjole in the late afternoon.
Today is the last day of the tour, and we will be heading back to Libreville, where we anticipate arriving in the midday/early afternoon period, when the tour will conclude at the airport.
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.
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.