Speckled Tinkerbird Pogoniulus scolopaceus nest site north of Libreville, Gabon
Male Orange Weaver Ploceus aurantius, Lopé Hotel, Gabon
African Skimmer Rynchops flavirostris, Sette Cama, near Gamba, Gabon
Gabon is a relatively small country with a host of species and many areas to watch birds. A few sites are becoming well known and those birders wishing to make the greatest contribution would do well to visit new areas which are likely to be just as rewarding. The following sites were visited during the African Bird Club sponsored tour to Gabon in October 2006 and some of the birds seen are documented below.
The majority of foreign visitors will fly into the capital city, Libreville and this can be a good place to begin birdwatching. The scrubby coastal areas near the airport have Reichenbach’s Sunbird Anabathmis reichenbachii and Vieillot’s Black Weaver Ploceus nigerrimus. Degraded forest habitat about 20 km north of Libreville holds Grey-throated Barbet Gymnobucco bonapartei, Speckled Tinkerbird Pogoniulus scolopaceus, Green-throated Sunbird Chalcomitra rubescens, Forest Chestnut-winged Starling Onychognathus fulgidus and Purple-headed Glossy Starling Lamprotornis purpureiceps. Somewhat rarer, a pair of Black Spinetail Telacanthura melanopygia circled low over the forest and small groups of Rosy Bee-eater Merops malimbicus were moving southwards in the same area in October 2006.
Lopé National Park is a spectacular forest site which has a healthy population of primates. The Park and its surrounding areas are rich in bird diversity and host the sought after Dja River Warbler Bradypterus grandis. The northern section of this National Park has tall-grass savannas scattered with stunted trees. The National Park can be reached by rail connection from Libreville but many people will make the journey by road in which case, N’Djoué is a good place for a lunch stop. The banks of the Ogooué River are places to look for both Rock Pratincole Glareola nuchalis and Grey Pratincole G. cinerea, White-headed Lapwing Vanellus albiceps, Cassin’s Flycatcher Muscicapa cassini and Black-bellied Seedcracker Pyrenestes ostrinus.
The Lopé Hotel is surrounded by open grasslands in which Forbes’s Plover Charadrius forbesi, Blue-breasted Bee-eater Merops variegatus, Long-legged Pipit Anthus pallidiventris, Pectoral-patch Cisticola Cisticola brunnescens, Siffling Cisticola C. brachypterus and Black-chinned Quailfinch Ortygospiza gabonensis may be found. Nearby, the gallery forest holds Square-tailed Saw-wing Psalidoprocne nitens, Purple-throated Cuckoo-Shrike Campephaga quiscalina, Brown-throated Wattle-eye Platysteira cyanea, Velvet-mantled Drongo Dicrurus modestus and the more difficult to find Black Dwarf Hornbill Tockus hartlaubi and Violet-tailed Sunbird Anthreptes aurantium. The hotel gardens themselves have nesting Copper Sunbirds Cinnyris cupreus and an Orange Weaver Ploceus aurantius colony.
It is necessary to enter the Lopé National Park with a guide to find Dja River Warbler Bradypterus grandis in its preferred swampy habitat. Grey Parrots Psittacus erithacus, Grey-headed Kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala, African Pied Hornbill Tockus fasciatus, Piping Hornbill Bycanistes fistulator, Black-casqued Hornbill Ceratogymna atrata, Whistling Cisticola Cisticola lateralis, Compact Weaver Pachyphantes superciliosus and Yellow-mantled Widowbird Euplectes macroura can all be found en route to the area which holds the warblers. Forested areas also have interesting and difficult to find species such as Blue-headed Wood Dove Turtur brehmeri, Green-tailed Bristelbill Bleda eximius and the delightful Chestnut-capped Flycatcher Erythrocercus mccallii.
Outside the National Park itself, many species can be found along the roadside forests in the area. Noteworthy species include Scaly Francolin Francolinus squamatus, Great Blue Turaco Corythaeola cristata, Green Turaco Tauraco persa, Swamp Nightjar Caprimulgus natalensis, the much-sought after Chocolate-backed Kingfisher Halcyon badia, Naked-faced Barbet Gymnobucco calvus, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird Pogoniulus subsulphureus, Hairy-breasted Barbet Tricholaema hirsuta, Yellow-crested Woodpecker Dendropicos xantholophus, White-chinned Prinia Prinia leucopogon, Fraser’s Forest-Flycatcher Fraseria ocreata, Sooty Flycatcher Muscicapa infuscata, Black-and-white Flycatcher Bias musicus, Fiery-breasted Bush-Shrike Malacanotus cruentus, Red-eyed Puffback Dryoscopus senegalensis, Sooty Boubou Laniarius leucorhynchus, Luehder’s Bush-Shrike L. luehderi, Rufous-bellied Helmet-Shrike Prionops rufiventris, Western Black-headed Oriole Oriolus brachyrhynchus and Shining Drongo Dicrurus atripennis.
The Batéké plateau situated on the country’s south-eastern border with Congo is Gabon’s most important grassland site with habitats ranging from rolling, grassy hills to dense, stunted, broad-leaved woodland. In all areas these habitats are juxtaposed to forests, with a rich diversity of bird species occurring within a small area. Many of these species are at the northern limit of their range and will be difficult to find elsewhere.
The town of Léconi is a good base from which to explore the plateau. The more forested areas hold Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo Cercococcyx olivinus, Green-backed Woodpecker Campethera cailliautii, Petit’s Cuckoo-Shrike Campephaga petiti, Black-collared Bulbul Neolestes torquatus, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat Cossypha niveicapilla, Salvadori’s Eremomela Eremomela salvadorii, Green-capped Eremomela E. scotops, Yellow-bellied Hyliota Hyliota flavigaster, Yellow-browed Camaroptera Camaroptera superciliaris, Johanna’s Sunbird Cinnyris johannae, Square-tailed Drongo Dicrurus ludwigii and the hard to find Black-chinned Weaver Ploceus nigrimentus. Finsch’s Francolin Francolinus finschi, Red-throated Wryneck Jynx ruficollis, Red-capped Crombec Sylvietta ruficapilla and Souza’s Shrike Lanius souzae can also be found with difficulty.
The more open areas are the favoured haunt of a few White-bellied Bustard Eupodotis senegalensis and Black-bellied Bustard E. melanogaster, Temminck’s Courser Cursorius temminckii, Long-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus climacurus, Malbrandt’s Rufous-naped Lark Mirafra africana malbranti, Short-tailed Pipit Anthus brachyurus, Congo Moor-Chat Myrmecocichla tholloni and Dambo Cisticola Cisticola dambo, not known from anywhere else in western Africa, and Fawn-breasted Waxbill Estrilda paludicola.
The Ivindo River Basin in the north-east of the country holds the most species rich lowland forests in Africa. At the small Ipassa Research Station, an Important Bird Area a couple of kilometres from the large town of Makokou, 190 Guinea-Congo Forest biome-restricted species have been recorded, the highest total for any IBA.
The bridges over the rivers at Makokou is a good place to start finding birds such as Bristle-nosed Barbet Gymnobucco peli, Gabon Woodpecker Dendropicos gabonensis, Elliot’s Woodpecker Dendropicos elliotii, White-throated Blue Swallow Hirundo nigrita, Purple-throated Cuckoo-Shrike Campephaga quiscalina, Banded Prinia Prinia bairdii and Gosling’s Apalis Apalis goslingi. Secondary scrub holds Rufous-crowned Eremomela Eremomela badiceps, Black-capped Apalis Apalis nigriceps, Buff-throated Apalis A. rufogularis, Superb Sunbird Cinnyris superbus and Western Bluebill Spermophaga haematina.
Evening boat trips from Makokou provide an opportunity for sightings of a number of species which are difficult to see on land. These include Spot-breasted Ibis Bostrychia rara, Hartlaub’s Duck Pteronetta hartlaubii, African Finfoot Podica senegalensis, two rarely seen nightjars, Bates’s Caprimulgus batesi, and Brown Nightjar C. binotatus, Bates’s Swift Apus batesi, Leaf-love Pyrrhurus scandens and White-browed Forest-Flycatcher Fraseria cinerascens.
Patches of forest towards the Congo border some 25 km from Makokou are worth exploring to try and find Latham’s Forest Francolin Francolinus lathami, Blue-headed Bee-eater Merops muelleri, White-crested Hornbill Tockus albocristatus, Black Dwarf Hornbill Tockus hartlaubi, Blue Cuckoo-Shrike Coracina azurea, Eastern Bearded Greenbul Criniger chloronotus, Forest Robin Stiphrornis erythrothorax, Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush Neocossyphus fraseri, Uganda Woodland Warbler Phylloscopus budongoensis, Violet-backed Hyliota Hyliota violacea, Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye Dyaphorophyia concreta, Bioko Batis Batis poensis, Sabine’s Puffback Dryoscopus sabini, Narrow-tailed Starling Poeoptera lugubris and Crested Malimbe Malimbus malimbicus.
The quality of forest birding is even better along the main trails of the Ipassa Research Station and several days can be spent here productively. Additional species in this area include Afep Pigeon Columba unicincta, Yellow-billed Turaco Tauraco macrorhynchus, Bare-cheeked Trogon Apaloderma aequatoriale, the diminutive African Dwarf Kingfisher Ceyx lecontei, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill Tockus camurus, Rufous-sided Broadbill Smithornis rufolateralis, African Piculet Sasia africana, Brown-eared Woodpecker Campethera caroli, Sjöstedt's Honeyguide Greenbul Baeopogon clamans, Ansorge’s Andropadus ansorgei, Icterine Phyllastrephus icterinus, Xavier’s Phyllastrephus xavieri and White-bearded Greenbuls Criniger ndussumensis, Yellow-throated Nicator Nicator vireo, Yellow Longbill Macrosphenus flavicans, Grey Longbill M. concolor, Yellow-footed Flycatcher Muscicapa sethsmithi, Tit-Hylia Pholidornis rushiae, Lemon-bellied Crombec Sylvietta denti, Grey-throated Tit-Flycatchers Myioparus griseigularis, White-spotted Wattle-eye Dyaphorophyia tonsa, Brown Illadopsis Illadopsis fulvescens, Fraser’s Sunbird Deleornis fraseri, Bates’s Sunbird Cinnyris batesi and Pale-fronted Negrofinch Nigrita luteifrons. Black Guineafowl Agelastes niger are present in the forests but will require significant patience and a good slice of luck to see well.
The more open areas on the track back towards Makokou are also worth exploring for Chestnut-flanked Sparrowhawk Accipiter castanilius, Verreaux’s Batis Batis minima, Bates’s Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone batesi, Forest Penduline Tit Anthoscopus flavifrons, Mackinnon’s Shrike Lanius mackinnoni, Cassin’s Malimbe Malimbus cassini and Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch Nigrita bicolor.
Perhaps the most varied part of Gabon is along its coast, such as in the Gamba complex, where forest and scrub habitats are supplemented by large coastal lagoons, mangroves, sandy shorelines and thickets with numerous palms. This area is not connected by road to the rest of Gabon and can only be reached by air. The sandy areas in the village of Sette Cama are a good place to find a range of exciting and unusual birds including Rosy Bee-eater Merops malimbicus, African River Martin Pseudochelidon eurystomina, Rufous-tailed Palm-Thrush Cichladusa ruficauda and Loanga Weaver Ploceus subpersonatus.
A boat trip on the lagoon could produce Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens, White-backed Night Heron Gorsachius leuconotus, Goliath Heron Ardea goliath, African Finfoot Podica senegalensis, African Skimmer Rynchops flavirostris, Royal Sterna maxima, Common S. hirundo, Arctic S. paradisaea and Black Tern Chlidonias niger, Shining-blue Kingfisher Alcedo quadribrachys, Giant Kingfisher Megaceryle maxima, Brown Sunbird Anthreptes gabonicus and Slender-billed Weaver Ploceus pelzelni.
The savannah edge is the best place to look for Cassin’s Spinetail Neafrapus cassini, the uncommon Black-headed Bee-eater Merops breweri, Grey-rumped Swallow Pseudhirundo griseopyga as well as large colonies of Rosy Bee-eater Merops malimbicus and African River Martin Pseudochelidon eurystomina in their breeding seasons. A walk through a forest may produce Plumed Guineafowl Guttera plumifera, Blue-throated Roller Eurystomus gularis, Red-tailed Neocossyphus rufus and White-tailed Ant-Thrush N. poensis and Blue-billed Malimbe Malimbus nitens.