Working for birds in Africa


Fri, 25/01/2013 - 12:02 -- abc_admin

São Tomé Prinia Prinia molleri

Image Credit: 
John Caddick

Most people will arrive at the island of São Tomé by air and probably stay in the town of São Tomé itself. There is the possibility of São Tomé Prinia Prinia molleri as well as a number of introduced species in the vicinity of the airport.

In order to see a large number of the endemic species, it is necessary to spend a day or more visiting the central São Toméan highlands at Lagoa Amelia. The road from the town of São Tomé winds its way up the mountain and once out of the populated areas, it passes through forests where Gulf of Guinea Thrush Turdus olivaceofuscus and Newton’s Sunbird Anabathmis newtonii can be found. The botanical research centre at Bom Successo is the starting point of the trail into the Obo National Park and this is a good place to try and find São Tomé Speirops Speirops lugubris, Forest Chestnut-winged Starlings Onychognathus fulgidus and Príncipe Seedeater Serinus rufobrunneus. You will need to follow the trail towards Pico de São Tomé, the island’s highest peak for São Tomé Spinetail Zoonavena thomensis, São Tomé Paradise- Flycather Terpsiphone atrochalybeia and São Tomé Weaver Ploceus sanctithomae. It will be necessary to scan Speirops flocks to find the elusive Príncipe White-eye Zosterops ficedulinus which is uncommon but even rarer on Príncipe itself! Higher up the mountain, one enters the National Park proper and here is the place to find the local race of Lemon Dove Columba larvata simplex and the striking São Tomé Oriole Oriolus crassirostris. Higher up the mountain is the dry crater lake which is a good place to survey the forests to try and find São Tomé Green Pigeon Treron sanctithomae and São Tomé Olive Pigeon Columba thomensis.

A trip to the northern Savannas will take one through a degraded habitat which has been mostly deforested but this is still a good place to find São Tomé Kingfisher Alcedo thomensis, São Tomé Bronze-naped Pigeon Columba malherbii and São Tomé Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrochalybeia. The coastal strip is a place to watch dark and pale morph Western Reef Egrets Egretta gularis and an area to look for the spectacular Giant Weaver Ploceus grandis.

A visit to the São Tomé south-western forests is essential however to try and find the remaining six endemic species of this island. Here, where it rains almost every day even in the dry season, it will probably be necessary to trek for long periods in difficult conditions in order to reach the pristine primary forest habitat and spend a few nights camping in the forest to find the endemics. In order to find Dwarf Olive Ibis Bostrychia olivacea bocagei, São Tomé Scops Owl Otus hartlaubi, the impressive Giant Sunbird Dreptes thomensis, and São Tomé Short-tail Amaurocichla bocagei, good fieldcraft, patience and tenacity is required. The critically endangered São Tomé Fiscal Lanius newtoni and São Tomé Grosbeak Neospiza concolor have been seen only rarely and may require one to camp for several days in areas of the forest with very difficult access.

The endemics of the small island of Príncipe which is located a mere 45-minute by air to the north-east of São Tomé are much easier to find. Príncipe Kingfisher Alcedo nais can be found en route from the airport and in the centre of the main town, Santo Antonio where Grey Parrots Psittacus erithacus can be seen flying overhead. A walk to the outskirts of town should allow you to find the common Príncipe Golden Weaver Ploceus princeps and the unusual and vociferous Dohrn’s Thrush Babbler Horizorhinus dohrni, Príncipe Speirops Speirops leucophaeus and Príncipe Glossy Starling Lamprotornis ornatus. It may be necessary to go a little higher into the hills to find the remaining endemic species, Príncipe Sunbird Anabathmis hartlaubi and perhaps the most difficult to find, Príncipe Drongo Dicrurus modestus modestus.

A visit to the southern forests is recommended to see Príncipe Thrush Turdus olivaceofuscus xanthorhynchus - a sub-species of Gulf of Guinea Thrush T. olivaceofuscus. These forests are also a stronghold of Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus with a breeding population. Its shores are the best place to see Príncipe Seedeater Serinus rufobrunneus. Spending one night at the southern coast bordering the rainforest is recommended. A small owl described by local people has still to be found.

Ilhas Tinhosas some 20 km south of Príncipe are well worth a visit and boats can be hired through the Bom Bom Island resort but beware that the Atlantic can be surprisingly rough. Black Anous minutus and Brown Noddies A. stolidus and Brown Boobies Sula leucogaster breed in many thousands on these tiny rocks. White-tailed Tropicbirds Phaethon lepturus can be seen drifting overhead. Do not land on the islets: besides being extremely dangerous it causes great disturbance to the birds.

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