Our Gabon – Rainforest Birds & Mammals birding tour takes in the bird-rich Leconi area of south-eastern Gabon, near the border with the Congo, as well as the fabulous Lope and Ivindo National Parks where we will seek a plethora of monkeys, sounders of strikingly patterned Red River Hog, herds of Forest Elephant and Forest Buffalo and troops of Chimpanzee. We even have a chance of seeing Lowland Gorillas and Mandrill!
The birding is equally exceptional, we have a good chance of seeing Africa’s toughest and arguably most attractive bee-eaters – Black-headed and Rosy. Other star species we may see include the rare Bare-cheeked Trogon, Congo Serpent Eagle, Long-tailed Hawk, Fiery-breasted Bushshrike, Shining-blue, Chocolate-backed and African Dwarf Kingfisher, African Finfoot, Black-casqued Hornbill, Finsch’s Francolin, Congo Moor Chat, Black-chinned Weaver and both Vermiculated and Pel’s Fishing Owls – to name just a handful!
Congo Serpent Eagle, Long-tailed Hawk, Bare-cheeked Trogon, Fiery-breasted Bushshrike, African Dwarf Kingfisher, African Finfoot, Black-casqued Hornbill, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Finsch’s Francolin, Congo Moor Chat, Black-chinned Weaver, Vermiculated and Pel’s Fishing Owls, Black and Plumed Guineafowls, Bates’s Nightjar, Black-headed and Rosy Bee-eaters, Black-casqued and White-crested Hornbills, Lyre-tailed Honeyguide, Gosling’s Apalis, Black-collared Bulbul and a chance of African River Martin
Forest Elephant, Forest Buffalo, Red River Hog, Chimpanzee and, with a great deal of luck, Western Lowland Gorilla, Mandrill and West African Manatee
Lowland and gallery forest, grassland, woodland, rivers
warm and humid
Magnificent pristine forest, some of the least explored wilderness in Africa
Day 1: Arrival in Libreville
Our Gabon birding tour begins today with our arrival in Libreville, the bustling capital city of Gabon. A short transfer from the airport will take us to our comfortable beachfront hotel where our group will meet at dinner.
Day 2: Libreville and fly to Franceville, transfer to Léconi
This morning we will take a flight from Libreville to Franceville. After arriving in Franceville, we will transfer to Léconi. Rockjumper has discovered an excellent site in the vicinity of Franceville, producing range extensions for several very exciting birds. Rare and elusive species that we may be fortunate to find here include the exceedingly scarce Chestnut-flanked Sparrowhawk, the uncommon Yellow-throated Cuckoo, bizarre Lyre-tailed Honeyguide, Black-headed Bee-eater, the near-mythical Eastern Wattled Cuckooshrike, Verreaux’s Batis, Congo Serpent Eagle, Long-tailed Hawk, Bare-cheeked Trogon, Yellow-throated Nicator, the rare and range-restricted Sjöstedt’s Greenbul and the beautiful Fiery-breasted Bushshrike. Slightly more widespread and regular species that we will also be on the look-out for include Western Black-headed and Black-winged Orioles, Elliot’s, Green-backed and Gabon Woodpeckers, Plain and Simple Greenbuls, Blue-throated Roller, African Pied, Piping and Red-billed Dwarf Hornbills, Willcock’s Honeyguide, Purple-headed Starling, Sooty Flycatcher, Grey-chinned, Little Green, Blue-throated Brown and Superb Sunbirds, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Red-necked Buzzard, Western Bronze-naped and Afep Pigeons, Pale-fronted, White-breasted and Grey-headed Nigritas, Cassin’s Malimbe, Red-eyed Puffback, Lowland Sooty Boubou, Purple-throated and Blue Cuckooshrikes, Western Nicator, the noisy, tit-like Fraser’s Forest Flycatcher and an incredible suite of forest barbets that include Grey-throated, Bristle-nosed, Naked-faced, Yellow-billed, Yellow-spotted and Hairy-breasted, as well as Speckled, Red-rumped and Yellow-throated Tinkerbirds
Nestled in the south-eastern corner of Gabon and surrounded by Congo lies the Bateké Plateau, an area of moist rolling upland grasslands dotted with patches of broadleaved woodland and evergreen forest. As we ascend the plateau after passing through Bongoville (the birthplace of Gabon’s previous President Omar Bongo), we will start to find birds that are new to our trip list. In the early evening we will then check into our local hotel, keeping vigilant for Bat Hawk that is occasionally seen around the property.
Days 3 to 5: Léconi area
Our time in the Leconi area will be spent exploring the grassland, forest and woodland patches around Léconi using 4×4 vehicles. Target grassland species on our Gabon birding tour include the localized and elusive Finsch’s Francolin, Black-rumped Buttonquail, White-bellied Bustard (the unusual race occurring here displays characteristics of both the southern and northern forms), Marsh Owl, Little Bee-eater, Flappet and Rufous-naped Larks (the distinctive local race is often split as Malbrant’s Lark), the rarely seen Short-tailed Pipit, a plethora of cisticolas including Whistling, Croaking, Short-winged, Zitting, Wing-snapping and Pectoral-patch, the desirable Congo Moorchat, Sooty Chat, Fawn-breasted and Orange-cheeked Waxbills, Black-winged Red Bishop, Yellow-mantled Widowbird and Black-throated Canary. Hirundines are represented in good numbers and notable species include the huge Red-breasted Swallow and two species of cliff-swallows; Red-throated and South African.
The dense, evergreen forests host several noteworthy species such as Guinea Turaco, African Broadbill, Purple-throated Cuckooshrike, Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Black-and-white Shrike-Flycatcher, Red-eyed Puffback, and three species of lovely bushshrikes; Lühder’s, Bocage’s and Gorgeous (or Perrin’s).
The woodland bird communities are extremely varied and local specialties include African Hobby, African Cuckoo, Senegal Coucal, Striped and Brown-hooded Kingfishers, White-fronted Bee-eater, Black Scimitarbill, the rare Black-backed and lovely Double-toothed Barbets, Red-throated Wryneck, Wood Pipit, the attractive Black-collared Bulbul, Green-capped and Salvadori’s Eremomelas, Red-capped Crombec, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, White-browed Scrub Robin, Black-headed and Angola Batises, White-winged Black Tit, Western Violet-backed and Amethyst Sunbirds, African Golden Oriole, Northern Puffback, the very localized and beautiful Black-chinned Weaver, Grey Waxbill and Cabanis’s Bunting.
If time permits, we will take the rather rough road to the rugged Léconi Canyons where we have a back-up chance of the grassland species already mentioned. Early evening excursions into the grasslands and towards the abandoned airstrip might produce Fiery-necked, Long-tailed, Swamp and the spectacular Pennant-winged Nightjars.
Day 6: Léconi to Franceville and night train to Lope National Park
We will depart early this morning for the drive back to Franceville, from where we will take a night train to Lope National Park. We should have time this morning for additional birding in the forest patch en route to Franceville and we will search this productive site for any species we may not have previously seen on our Gabon birding tour. Upon arrival at Lope in the early morning, we will then take the short drive to our famous local hotel, which is set on a wide plain along the rushing Ogooué River, just outside the national park.
Our air-conditioned bungalows for the next two nights of our Gabon birding tour are nestled in the hotel’s manicured gardens, flanked by a large grassy plain where Forest Buffalo graze at night. The lodge property backs onto the river and is surrounded by small forest glades. Wallowing in the crystal-clear swimming pool that overlooks the Ogooué is a great way to round off our days here – but be warned to keep your binoculars at hand as good birds are always in close proximity. (On a previous tour, a male Black-casqued Wattled Hornbill was seen flying right over the swimming pool!)
In the morning we are sure to be met by Long-legged Pipits and African Thrushes, which are resident on the hotel lawns. In addition, the flowering plants attract an incredible array of sunbirds and we can expect to find Collared, Green-headed, Green-throated, Olive-bellied and Copper, all providing excellent photographic opportunities and we will also search any large, flowering trees adjacent to the river for the rare Violet-tailed Sunbird. Weavers are prolific and noisy, and species here include Orange, Village, Vieillot’s and Black-headed. The river and its margins attract birds of a different nature: families of White-crowned Lapwings, African Skimmers and Rock Pratincoles roost on the large rocks, and in the evening they forage over the lodge’s airspace. Raptors pass overhead in good numbers and we may see Palmnut Vulture, African Fish Eagle, Red-chested Goshawk and African Harrier-Hawk from the lodge grounds. Other fly-overs include noisy flocks of red-tailed Grey Parrot (wonderful to see outside of their usual caged environment) and the uncommon Red-fronted Parrot. The oddly shaped Mottled Spinetail can be seen winging overhead in small numbers, often accompanied by other more common swift and hirundine species. The rare Black-faced Canary is sometimes seen in the bushes around the cabins.
The grassy plains are home to the nomadic Senegal Lapwing, spectacular Blue-breasted Bee-eater and Yellow-throated Longclaw, while there are also usually a few Quailfinch (represtented here by the black-chinned race that has been split in the past) around. The surrounding woodlands attract Blue-spotted Wood and Tambourine Doves, African Green Pigeon, the skulking Blue Malkoha, African Pygmy, Grey-headed and Woodland Kingfishers, African Pied Hornbill, Speckled and Yellow-throated Tinkerbirds, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Mangrove Sunbird and Bronze, Black-and-white and the rare Magpie Mannikins.
Days 7 & 8: Lope National Park
We will spend two full days of our Gabon birding tour in a large, open, safari style 4×4 truck; exploring the northern sections of this 5,360 square km (2,069 square ml) park. The main habitats are small to large forest blocs surrounded by grasslands, spread out over gently rolling countryside. The immensity of pristine habitat here gladdens the heart!
Aside from all the fabulous birds we will be searching for, this is prime rainforest mammal country and we can expect to find our first Forest Elephants. These are slighter, darker beasts than their savanna counterparts, sporting thinner, straighter tusks, smaller ears and three (rather than four) toes. Recent genetic studies have revealed that the Forest Elephant is a distinct species, as differentiated from Indian (or Asiatic) Elephant and African Elephant.
The small, reddish and woolly Forest Buffalo, however, is still considered the same species as the larger, darker Cape or African Buffalo, despite their considerable differences in appearances! They can be found wallowing in swampy areas or crossing the grasslands between forest patches; and, when observing them, their shaggy coats and tasselled ears provide a comical contrast to their otherwise dour expressions. Even more exotic are the sounders of preposterous Red River Hogs: these white-faced pigs sport a conspicuous black facemask, while their rusty bodies are offset by a white erectile mane running along their spine and long, white ear-tassels. Family groups of a dozen or so are most likely to be observed in the late afternoon when they emerge from the forests to root around in adjoining grasslands.
These are certainly all wonderful animals, but it is the primates that are the key mammalian attraction here; indeed, it is a truly amazing experience to explore these primordial forest trails where wild Western Lowland Gorillas and Chimpanzees still roam freely! These are, however, very difficult to observe despite their considerable numbers (3,000-5,000 gorillas are resident in the park). Other primates occurring in Lope that we may observe include the shy Mandrill, the excessively long-tailed Black Colobus, blue-faced Moustached Monkeys, the aptly named Greater Putty-nosed Monkey, and the scruffy Grey-cheeked Mangabey.
While the area’s forests are not as ancient or expansive as elsewhere in Gabon due to the effects of recent ice ages, numerous mouth-watering species nonetheless occur. We will search the various forest blocs for Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle, Red-chested Owlet, Narina Trogon, Chocolate-backed and Blue-breasted Kingfishers, the lovely Black and Rosy Bee-eaters, Blue-throated Roller, Piping Hornbill and the massive Black-casqued Wattled Hornbill, Naked-faced and Yellow-billed Barbets, Spotted and Willcock’s Honeyguides, Green-backed Woodpecker, Sooty, Olivaceous and Yellow-footed Flycatchers, Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Tit-Hylia, the rare Forest Penduline Tit, Chestnut-winged Starling, extremely scarce but gorgeous Red-bellied Malimbe, Fraser’s, Little Green, Blue-throated Brown, Olive, Superb and Johanna’s Sunbirds, and the rare forest form of African Yellow White-eye, which is sometimes split as a full species. The sterility of the grasslands is in stark contrast to the richness of the forests, but Swamp Nightjar, Chattering and Short-winged Cisticolas and Blue-headed Coucal can be found here as well as in the adjoining scrub.
Day 9: Lope National Park, train ride to Boue and drive to Ipassa (Ivindo National Park)
After an early breakfast, we will begin our travels to the incredible Ivindo National Park. The first part of our journey will involve a short train ride to Boue before starting the long transfer through to Ipassa. While on the drive we will make regular stops and should encounter a few interesting species on the way.
Days 10 to 12: Ivindo National Park
We have three full days of our Gabon birding tour to explore the area and its network of trails; and, whilst here, we will enjoy a boat trip in search of the region’s main specialties – African River Martin and Gosling’s Apalis. Here we also have an outside chance for observing Western Lowland Gorilla.
Birding in the area is superb: flocks of Sabine’s and Cassin’s Spinetails, Forest Swallows and Square-tailed and Black Saw-wings swoop low over the clearings. Other target species occurring here include Black Guineafowl, Long-tailed Hawk, Sjöstedt’s Barred Owlet, White-spotted Flufftail, Afep Pigeon, Blue-headed Wood Dove, the impressive Great Blue and Yellow-billed Turacos, White-throated Bee-eater, White-crested and Red-billed Dwarf Hornbills (these forest interior hornbills frequently associate with monkey troops), Yellow-spotted and Hairy-breasted Barbets, Thick-billed and the unique Lyre-tailed Honeyguides, Buff-spotted, Gabon and Brown-eared Woodpeckers, Rufous-sided and Grey-headed Broadbills, Blue Cuckooshrike, Forest Penduline Tit, an incredible array of greenbuls including Little, Little Grey, Ansorge’s, Slender-billed, Yellow-whiskered, Golden, Honeyguide, Spotted, Yellow-throated, Falkenstein’s (Yellow-necked), Swamp, Icterine, Red-tailed, Eastern Bearded and White-bearded!, Common and Green-tailed Bristlebills, Western (Yellow-spotted) and Yellow-throated Nicators, Fraser’s, Red-tailed and White-tailed Rufous Thrushes, Fire-crested Alethe, Banded Prinia, Buff-throated Apalis, Yellow-browed and Olive-green Camaropteras, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Green and Lemon-bellied Crombecs, Yellow and Grey Longbills, Green Hylia, Violet-backed Hyliota, Forest Robin, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Brown Illadopsis, Chestnut-bellied (Gabon) Helmetshrike, Shining and Velvet-mantled Drongos, Yellow-mantled Weaver, Black-throated, Gray’s and Crested Malimbes, the uncommon Woodhouse’s Antpecker, White-breasted and Grey-headed Nigritas, Black-bellied Seedcracker, Western Bluebill and Black-headed Waxbill. A number of these species are ant-attenders and when we locate the roving columns of safari ants, these preoccupied “anters” pay no attention to the human observers, allowing for fabulous viewing. Many of the passerines forage in bird parties or waves and the forest can be surprisingly silent until we come across these high-activity and noisy multi-species flocks, a birder’s dream indeed!
Day 13: Ipassa to Boue, transfer via night train to Libreville
After a wonderful few days in this fabulous location we will begin our journey back to Libreville.
Day 14: Libreville and depart
This morning will see the conclusion of our Gabon tour for those of you not continuing on with the Loango Extension. For those heading off to Loango we will board a flight to Port Gentil and continue our adventure from there. More details on this exciting extension below.