São Tomé and Príncipe Birding Tours
With 75% of its area covered by rainforest, São Tomé and Príncipe is characterized by unspoiled, palm-fringed beaches, towering volcanic peaks, and a fascinating history. With the recent discovery of large oil deposits in the Gulf of Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipe is on the cusp of change. This is Africa’s second-smallest country (after the Seychelles), and it exhibits an enticing blend of African, Portuguese, and Caribbean culture. Pioneering travelers (or less pioneering ones simply joining our bird tours, making it easier) will discover an African island paradise. Largely unexplored and unexploited by tourism, these tropical, volcanic islands off the west-African coast are the antitheses of mass-market destinations and one of the most unspoiled places on earth. The scarcity of tourists is one of the islands’ biggest attractions. However, for birders of course an even bigger attraction is the presence of 26 endemic bird species! This amazing count of endemics means we’re puzzled that these beautiful islands are so under-birded and poorly known in world birding circles. It’s easy to combine a birding trip to São Tomé and Príncipe with your birding holiday to Gabon or Ghana. So why not?
Giant Weaver and Giant Sunbird are the two larger-than-usual representatives of their families for which, as a world birder, you have to visit these islands (as they occur nowhere else). But Principe Golden Weaver and Sao Tome Weaver plus Newton’s Sunbird and Principe Sunbird are also endemic to these islands. Dwarf Olive Ibis, Sao Tome Scops Owl, Sao Tome Speirops, Principe Speirops, Sao Tome Grosbeak, and Sao Tome Paradise Flycatcher are a few more of the charismatic avian endemics of São Tomé and Príncipe. On our set-departure birding tours to these islands we of course also look for all the other endemics this tropical paradise boasts: Sao Tome Fiscal, Sao Tome Olive Pigeon, Sao Tome Green Pigeon, Sao Tome Oriole, Sao Tome Prinia, Principe Glossy Starling, Sao Tome Spinetail, Dohrn’s Thrush-Babbler, Sao Tome Thrush, Principe Thrush, Principe White-eye, Sao Tome White-eye, Sao Tome Shorttail, and Principe Seedeater. Sao Tome Bronze-naped Pigeon is a near-endemic. and we definitely include this as a top target on our São Tomé and Principe birding tours.
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There are also quite a number of endemic subspecies, different from the African mainland subspecies, that might be split in the future. These include two subspecies of Malachite Kingfisher and of Lemon Dove and subspecies of Velvet-mantled Drongo, Chestnut-winged Starling, and two seedeaters.
São Tomé and Príncipe not only have a lot of endemic birds but are also full of endemic plants, including some giant Begonia species. If you want to see big mammals, it’s best to combine your birding trip to São Tomé and Príncipe with Gabon or somewhere else on the African mainland. But these islands are very important for another charismatic animal, Hawksbill Turtle.
São Tomé and Príncipe have links with Portugal, and many birders fly direct from there or from Gabon and more recently from Ghana (now making it easier than before to combine these exciting little islands in the Gulf of Guinea with our Ghana birding tour.
When is the best time to bird São Tomé and Príncipe? With the country being rather rainy, the ideal time is June through September when it is the (relatively) dry season. This also makes it easy to combine this tour with our Gabon birding tour; Gabon is indeed also very good during these exact same months.
These islands are scenically beautiful, making a birding vacation to this part of the world even more appealing. From mangrove-lined estuaries and palm-fringed beaches one can ascend to over 6,000 feet (2,000 meters) through cocoa plantations and to the montane forests that contain many of the endemics.
The birding sites we visit on our São Tomé and Príncipe bird tour include Lagoa Amelia, Bela Vista above Santo Antonio, and some of the islets for tropical seabirds including Sooty Tern, noddies, and tropicbirds.