20 March 2014

Equatorial Guinea: The Final Days

The last day we spent in Río Muni was spent at the namesake estuary in the far south of the country. The weaving brackish water forms the border between Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, and we were excited to see what sorts of birds we could turn up.

As the day progressed, however, we began to wonder if we were going to make it there at all. Our guide called us, apologetic, and stated that he was having trouble reaching our driver. When they did finally show up, we were two hours behind schedule. Though we had a nice laid back morning of porch birding, we were very excited about seeing more of the country. We wound our way south along the newly constructed roads, and eventually found ourselves in the port town of Cogo. Here, Obama negotiated on our behalf as we sought a way to enter the estuary. Birding in the town was surprisingly productive. A point blank Hamerkop flew along the shore, and flocks of African Green-Pigeons passed overhead. Most surprisingly, a lone Red-chested Swallow foraged over the downtown, providing one of the only records of this patchily distributed species for the country. Additionally, a Black Sawwing, a bird I had not seen since my days in South Africa, flew continuously back and forth from an island in the bay, making us believe that there was a nest nearby.

Eventually, we managed to secure a boat, and headed further out into the estuary, into a region known as Cuatro Ríos. Where four large headwaters come together, these placid waters glistened under the green hills, and the cool marine air made us feel at ease.

Gabon, as seen from Equatoguinean waters in the Río Muni Estuary.

From here, we drifted through the currents, and eventually found ourselves along a fantastic mudbank. Hamerkop, Marsh Sandpipers, Woolly-necked Storks and Pink-backed Pelicans kept us enthralled, and such gems as Giant Kingfisher, African Royal Tern and Palm-nut Vultures kept our eyes glancing skyward. We became so distracted that we did not realize that we had, in fact, drifted into Gabon! Upon realizing our error, we returned back Cogo along the shore, and from there headed back to Bata for our return to Bioko.

A Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) resting along the Río Muni in northern Gabon.

A Palm-nut Vulture (Gypohierax angolensis) checks out our boat as we drift too close in northern Gabon.

Woodland Kingfishers (Halcyon senegalensis) were abundant throughout the country, and commonly nested in towns. This individual, however, was photographed in Altos del Nsork.

The next day, we headed up the highest mountain in Equatorial Guinea: Pico Basile. As we wound our way up the mountain, I reflected on everything that had occurred during my trip. It was incredible how much I had recovered from my illness, and birds that were once completely foreign to me were suddenly familiar. We finally stopped approximately two-thirds of the way up the mountain as our driver was scared of continuing higher, saying that the bus might not be able to handle the drive. So we began to walk around and enjoy the sights, and soon found ourselves enjoying some of the best birding we had had the entire trip. Babbling Evergreen-forest Warblers skulked in the brush, bizarre Green Longtails sang from the vines, and one of the only Willow Warblers ever seen in the country made a brief appearance along the road. We stopped and watched a male Klaas's Cuckoo surveying the mountainside, listened to the raucous calls of the Great Blue Turacos echoing through the trees.

The confusingly named Dusky Flycatcher (or alternatively, Dusky-brown or African Dusky Flycatcher, Muscicapa adusta) is a familiar bird from southern Africa. However, a very disjunct population resides in the Cameroonian highlands and on Bioko. This individual foraged actively along the road and afforded excellent views for us to study it.

Just a few hours later, I sat on the plane, and watched the Equatoguinean coast disappear below me. We all smiled, discussed the best parts of our trip, and slept as much as we could. Our pilot expedition had worked out fantastically well, and we knew enough to plan for a full-scale expedition. I am happy to say that, come November, I will be returning to Equatorial Guinea on a National Geographic-funded expedition, and will be able to unravel more of the ornithological mysteries in this fascinating country.

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