Working for birds in Africa

São Tomé and Príncipe : A birders guide to the Gulf of Guinea islands of São Tomé and Príncipe

Sat, 29/12/2012 - 14:40 -- abc_admin
Dave Sargeant. Privately published. £7.50.
page 104

In recent years São Tomé has opened up to western visitors and since 1987 there has been a steady trickle of birders visiting the islands. As a result, the avifauna of the islands is now fairly well known, but there has been little information for birders who have limited time and want to visit the island and see all the endemic birds. This is the first guide to fulfil this need and it describes Dave's experiences on two trips, totalling 15 days made by him and various others, to the islands, one in 1989 and the other in 1991. It consists of 22 typed pages and two maps, although for some reason it does not include a map of Príncipe. As a result of the short time he spent on the islands, the number of areas he visited is small, and several other important sites are missing from this guide. Apart from the species list and guides to the sites, Dave provides an informative, and sometimes extremely amusing, account of his experiences on the island, notably when camping in the south-western forests. His account gives useful hints on how to find the rarer endemics in lowland primary forest. On the front cover there is a bold claim of where to find all the endemic species, which the guide lives up to. Dave also provides a suggested itinerary to enable the birder to do so. Whilst this is quite hectic, it is well informed and anyone following his advice should get to see all the endemics. Dave stresses that a trip to the remote south-western forests is essential, but that it needs to be planned carefully. His experiences show that it is best to be as self sufficient as possible, and not to rely on porters being available. Although this guide makes no mention of the risks, I would not recommend that a single person visits the south-western forests. The terrain can be treacherous and it would be very easy to slip and break a leg, or even be bitten by one of the extremely common Black Cobras that lie around in the rivers. Dave highlights some of the problems of access and accommodation; visitors to the islands should ensure that they plan their trip well in advance through one of the companies mentioned in the guide. Dave provides a brief summary of the endemic birds found to be found on São Tomé and Príncipe. The taxonomy of this, and the species list at the end, is questionable and does not take into account several recent taxonomic changes. For example, the two Alcedo kingfishers found on the islands have been elevated from endemic subspecies to full species whilst in the guide they are lumped under A. cristata. My experience of birds in the hand shows the two to be markedly different and I think Dave has been a little premature in 'lumping' this and other species. As a result of recent changes in taxonomy it is widely accepted that there are now 28 endemic species on the two islands. There is no mention of the 11 endemic subspecies found on the islands, and a general summary of the status of these would have be useful for birders not familiar with the avifauna of the islands. The species list at the end, although fairly complete (but with several omissions), is a little misleading as it does not give the status of the birds. This would have been useful as many of the records are of single birds collected many years ago; just a list of breeding birds would have been helpful for a birder wanting to know what could realistically be seen on a trip. There is also no mention of conservation status. For any birder visiting the islands I would recommend two reports published by BirdLife International as essential reading to accompany this guide. BirdLife's Study Reports numbers 24 and 56 detail visits made since 1987 and provide information based on four months of fieldwork. These reports detail observations from a wider variety of sites and also useful information on the status of the endemics and their conservation. In conclusion, this publication will be extremely useful to the birder who wants to visit the islands and see all the endemics. For a description of two birding trips, it is pricey at £7.50 but any birder visiting the islands would be well advised to buy this guide together with the two BirdLife reports.

Phil Atkinson

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