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Sao Tome Principe

Sao Tome Prinia Prinia molleri ©David Hoddinott Website

The Gulf of Guinea islands

Nestling in the armpit of Africa the four islands of Bioko, Príncipe, São Tomé and Annobón have been virtually ignored by birders and have been the preserve of expeditions and the more ambitious bird-tour companies. This is surprising given that the islands offer some of Africa's most spectacular scenery and, although you will not see hundreds of species, the number of endemics is truly impressive - 26 on São Tomé and Príncipe alone. These range from the incredible Giant Sunbird through to the São Tomé Short-tail, a bird unlike any other with its own genus. Several species, including the Dwarf Olive Ibis, São Tomé Fiscal Shrike and São Tomé Grosbeak have been seen by less than ten living birders! However with a bit of adventure these species may be seen in the remote southwestern forests of São Tomé. Coupled with the birds the people are amongst the friendliest in Africa, the scenery is spectacular and the many beaches are wonderful. It is an ideal place to spend some time.

Geography and Biodiversity
These volcanic islands form a line of extinct volcanoes, starting with Annobón in the southwest and reaching up northeastwards to Mount Cameroon and beyond. The two middle islands in the chain, São Tomé and Príncipe, form the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe. Bioko, the biggest island and the closest to mainland, and Annobón, the smallest and more inaccessible, are part of Equatorial Guinea.

Bioko is part of the continental shelf and was only isolated from the mainland 11,000 years ago. It has, therefore, a rich fauna and flora of continental origin, but low levels of bird endemism although for it size it has one of the highest diversity of primates in the world. Príncipe, São Tomé and Annobón are oceanic islands and have never been connected to mainland or to each other. Their fauna and flora having evolved independently is characterised by high levels of endemism. Even the extremely small Annobón (9x3 km) has two endemic land birds, the Annobón White-eye and the Annobón Paradise Flycatcher, shares the endemic Bronze-naped Pigeon with São Tomé and Príncipe, and hosts a sub-species of the African Scops Owl. São Tomé and Príncipe are undoubtedly the stars of the pack, with more than twice the number of endemic birds that could be predicted by area alone.

Access
All the islands can be visited, although access to Annobón is really only possible from mainland Equatorial Guinea or by private yacht charter from São Tomé. Access to São Tomé is via TAP Air Portugal flights, which depart from Lisbon, or with Air Gabon, which departs from Libreville. Libreville is connected to most African cities and to Europe, via Paris. Access to Príncipe is by air via São Tomé. Apart from two main local languages, Portuguese is widely spoken and French is the most spoken second language. English is spoken at hotels and by some guides.

All the islands can be visited, although access to Annobón is really only possible from mainland Equatorial Guinea or by private yacht charter from São Tomé. Access to São Tomé is via TAP Air Portugal flights, which depart from Lisbon, or with Air Gabon, which departs from Libreville. Libreville is connected to most African cities and to Europe, via Paris. Access to Príncipe is by air via São Tomé. Apart from two main local languages, Portuguese is widely spoken and French is the most spoken second language. English is spoken at hotels and by some guides.

A closer look at São Tomé and Príncipe

Birding Sites
Most of the endemics on São Tomé and Príncipe are easy to see and can be seen around the main towns. See Top Sites below for details of other sites.

When to visit
All the endemics in São Tomé and Príncipe can be seen at any time of year. However, access to the southwestern forests in São Tomé will be difficult in the rainy season. The periods June to August and December-January are the best as they are the two drier periods.

AccommodationAccommodation in São Tomé is varied but not necessarily cheap. It ranges from the up-market Marlin Beach Hotel www.marlinbeach.com/ and the Hotel Miramar www.sao-tome.com/ costing upwards of US$100 per night to small pensions. In between there are several small, well-equipped establishments that cost around US$50 per person per night including breakfast. For long stays, renting a place can be more economic.

Accommodation in Príncipe is limited to the up-market Bom Bom Island Resort and a couple of pensions in town. Pensão Romar is recommended (US$1 per person per night including breakfast). It has a very special atmosphere, and friendly service. Its balcony bewitches most of those that have passed by. To top it all, Zôzô is an excellent cook (ask her for local dishes which she excels at).

Hazards
Malaria is the main health concern in the islands. Follow the prophylaxis regime recommended by your doctor and take care to avoid mosquito bites especially at dusk. The use of repellent and a mosquito net at night is strongly recommended. The golden rule is to consider any difference in your physical well being as a possible symptom of malaria, and go and get it checked it in a clinic or hospital.

The only other major hazard in the forest is black cobras. Initially introduced to reduce rat populations in the plantations, these snakes have spread into the forest. They generally get out of your way and there have been no reported cases of birders having problems. However, take care crossing fallen logs and dry streambeds where they like to bask in the early morning. Contact your doctor if you require advice on snakebites.

As in any tropical area care should be taken with water consumption. When in towns drink bottled water or use sterilising tablets or drops of iodine to be safe. Water direct from rivers in the southwest is probably safe.

Birding and which field guides to use
Despite being virtually unknown by birders, RDSTP and Bioko have their own field guides. The Christy & Clarke guide is the most up to date and is available from www.nhbs.com and the Sargeant bird-finding guide, although fairly old, still holds good. Abbé René de Naurois volumes cover both islands and are a summary of his 20+ years research on the island`s birds.

Further information, NGOs & Links
By far and away the best resource for those interested in the different groups of plants and animals is the Gulf of Guinea Conservation Group. Here you can find information about the different islands, species lists and a whole host of information about living and working in the Gulf of Guinea. This web site is maintained from São Tomé and there is also an informal e-mail discussion list that can be joined.

The travel agency Mistral Voyages (mvoyages@cstome.net ); with an office in São Tomé, can help you organise your trip.

Top Sites

Lagoa Amélia

Satellite View

In São Tomé, however, it is necessary to visit the high-altitude cloud forest at Lagoa Amélia to see species such as the Maroon Pigeon and Giant Sunbird as well as some truly spectacular forest.

Príncipe Ilhas Tinhosas

Satellite View

The seabird islets 20 km south of Príncipe, the Ilhas Tinhosas, are well worth a visit and boats can be hired through the Bom Bom Island resort. Sooty Terns, Black and Brown Noddies and Brown Boobies breed in many thousands in these tiny rocks. Do not land on the islets: besides being extremely dangerous it causes great disturbance to the birds.

Príncipe Southern Forests

Satellite View

On Príncipe, all the endemics (6 in all) can be seen on roads around the town, although a visit to the southern forests is recommended to see the Príncipe Thrush - a sub-species of the São Tomé Thrush that may be split in the future. The southern forests are also the strongholds of the African Grey Parrot breeding population, and its shores are the best place to see the Príncipe Seed-eater. Most of Príncipe can be explored on day-walks, but spending one night in the southern coast, bordering the rainforest is recommended: a small owl described by local people has still to be found by outsiders, and it is a good bet to try to spot the seldom seen Príncipe Olive Ibis…

São Tomé peak

Satellite View

For the pure scenery pleasure a two-day walk to the São Tomé peak (2,024 m); crossing different forest types, is a must. For the more intrepid, a visit to the southwestern forests is essential to see species such as the Dwarf Olive Ibis, the fiscal shrike, the short-tail and the grosbeak. Here, where it rains almost everyday even in the dry season, it will probably be necessary to spend 1-2 nights camping in the forest to ensure that all the endemics are seen.

Contributor

Phil Atkinson

Chairman of the African Bird Club

Phil.Atkinson@bto.org

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 144

Endemics

Number of endemics: 24

Sao Tome Kingfisher Alcedo thomensis Principe Kingfisher Alcedo nais Sao Tome Spinetail Zoonavena thomensis Sao Tome Scops-Owl Otus hartlaubi Sao Tome Olive-Pigeon Columba thomensis Sao Tome Bronze-naped Pigeon Columba malherbii Sao Tome Green-Pigeon Treron sanctithomae Sao Tome Ibis Bostrychia bocagei Newton`s Fiscal Lanius newtoni Sao Tome Oriole Oriolus crassirostris Sao Tome Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrochalybeia Principe Glossy-Starling Lamprotornis ornatus Sao Tome Prinia Prinia molleri Principe Speirops Speirops leucophoeus Principe White-eye Zosterops ficedulinus Annobon White-eye Zosterops griseovirescens Sao Tome Sunbird Dreptes thomensis Principe Sunbird Nectarinia hartlaubii Newton`s Sunbird Nectarinia newtonii Principe Golden-Weaver Ploceus princeps Giant Weaver Ploceus grandis Sao Tome Weaver Ploceus sanctithomae Principe Seedeater Serinus rufobrunneus Sao Tome Canary Neospiza concolor

Checklist

Checklist

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Useful Reading

Birds of Western Africa

by Nik Borrow & Ron Demey - February 2002 Christopher Helm [an imprint of A&C Black (Publisher) Limited] ?55
See Fatbirder Review

ISBN: 0713639598

Buy this book from NHBS.com

The Birds of São Tomé & Príncipe with Annobón

by P. Jones & A. Tye. £30 from British Ornithologists' Union | PO Box 417, Peterborough PE7 3FX, UK
Tel & Fax +44 (0) 1 733 844 820

Trip Reports

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

CloudBirders

Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2010 [03 March] - Tropical Birding

Report

This was a magical trip combining several of Africa’s great zones of endemicity, including Africa’s mini Galapagos – São Tomé & Príncipe. The team managed an impressive clean-up of all the endemic species and sub-species of the islands (26 species according to Clements, 27 according to BirdLife International and 29 according to Sinclair & Ryan). We made sure we saw all species for all taxonomies! Unfortunately only Keith (the leader) saw the rare and enigmatic São Tomé Grosbeak, thought to be extinct until 1990. Everybody got great looks at the other Critically Threatened endemics the Dwarf Olive Ibis and Newton’s Fiscal. Other bizarre oddities included the tree-marching São Tomé Shorttail and Dohrn’s Thrush-babbler as well as the magnificent Giant Sunbird and Giant Weaver…

2010 [07 July] - Christian Boix

Report

…A fallow field next to the track had attracted some seedeaters, Bronze Mannikins mostly, as well as Common Waxbill and Blue-breasted (Southern) Cordonbleus. Another endemic, Principe Seedeater, was easy to track down as they were singing from every decent-sized tree along our walk. Olivaceous Thrush, also known as Gulf of Guinea Thrush was seen on a multitude of occasions really well feasting on over-ripened bananas, and flushing off the paths…

2011 [08 August] - Peregrine Bird Tours

Report PDF

…Our tour to Gabon and the far-flung islands of Sao Tome and Principe, was very enjoyable and we saw almost all of the hoped for specialities at each of the areas we visited. Highlights included Forbes's Plover, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Bare-cheeked Trogon, the rarely observed Willcocks's Honeyguide, the tiny African Piculet, the near-mythical African River Martin, Congo Moor Chat, Giant Sunbird and Red-headed Antpecker. Impressive mammals included both Elegant Needle-clawed and Demidoff's Galagos, African Forest Elephant, Atlantic Humpback Dolphin and the rarely observed Lesser Anomalure…

2013 [07 July] - Nik Borrow

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…We begun our tour in Libreville, the capital of Gabon but lingered only long enough to take in the Reichenbach’s Sunbirds in the hotel garden along with some of the saddest looking, oil-stained and bedraggled Western Cattle Egrets on this planet. We also noted Western Reef Egret, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, African Palm Swift, Common Bulbul, African Thrush, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Black-necked and Village Weavers and Bronze Mannikin before embarking on the flight to the far-flung island of São Tomé…

2016 [09 September] - Michiel de Boer - Gabon, Sao Tomé & Principe

Report

...My personal targets for this trip were the Picathartes, Rosy and Black-headed Bee-eaters, White-bellied Kingfisher (one of the last of the African Kingfishers I needed) and Bare Cheeked Trogon. Priorities were a little different with my companion George Wagner. He had not been to Cameroon but had been to Ghana and had seen the Rosy Bee-eater...

Places to Stay

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Bom Bom Island Resort

Accommodation

Bom Bom Island Resort is such an attractive destination for fishermen, nature-lovers, escapists and honeymooners because it combines excellent facilities and luxury in an exotic location…

Hotel Miramar

Accommodation

In the middle of a tropical flower garden lies the Hotel Miramar. This first-class hotel hotel, built between 1985-86, is located right at the beach promenade of the city centre of São Tomé. Its neighbours are the UNO and the portugese embassy. Since the complete renovation in 1996/97 by German investors the Hotel Miramar is the place to stay during your days on the island.

Marlin Beach Hotel

Accommodation

Situated 230 kilometers off the West Coast of Africa are 2 islands called São Tomé and Príncipe. Together they form one of the smallest and least- known independent states in the world.

Organisations

African Bird Club

Website

These islands straddling the equator in the Gulf of Guinea are home to an impressive list of endemic species which should satisfy the requirements of most birdwatchers. These range from the incredible Giant Sunbird Dreptes thomensis, São Tomé Short-tail Amaurocichla bocagei, a bird unlike any other with its own genus, as well as the rare and little seen São Tomé Grosbeak Neospiza concolor and São Tomé Fiscal Lanius newtoni. The islands also offer some of Africa’s most spectacular scenery, many beaches and friendly people…

West African Ornithological Society

Website

The West African Ornithological Society grew out of the Nigerian Ornithologists’ Society, which was founded in February 1964. Its object is to promote scientific interest in the birds of West Africa and to further the region’s ornithology, mainly by means of its journal Malimbus (formerly the Bulletin of the Nigerian Ornithologists’ Society). This journal is biannual and bilingual, a unique feature in Africa.The West African Ornithological Society grew out of the Nigerian Ornithologists’ Society, which was founded in February 1964. Its object is to promote scientific interest in the birds of West Africa and to further the region’s ornithology, mainly by means of its journal Malimbus (formerly the Bulletin of the Nigerian Ornithologists’ Society). This journal is biannual and bilingual, a unique feature in Africa.

Reserves

Important Bird Areas

Information

Of the total 144 recorded species, 72 are breeding residents and 25 are endemic to the islands. Of the endemic species, 12 are of global conservation concern of which 8 are restricted to São Tomé, 2 to Príncipe and 2 are found on both islands. All the endemics are restricted range species with each island being a separate Endemic Bird Area (EBA). São Tomé holds 21 restricted range species and Príncipe holds 12. There are 5 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) covering 250 km2…

Other Links

Birds of São Tomé e Príncipe

Website

These islands straddling the equator in the Gulf of Guinea are home to a similar number of endemic species as the Galapagos Islands which should satisfy the requirements of the most discerning birdwatchers. These range from the incredible Giant Sunbird Dreptes thomensis, São Tomé Short-tail Amaurocichla bocagei, a bird unlike any other with its own genus, as well as the rare and little seen São Tomé Grosbeak Neospiza concolor and São Tomé Fiscal Lanius newtoni.