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Gulf of Guinea Expeditions 

June 30, 2011

The Race: A New Species, Birds and Special People

Readers will recall our bryophyte expert, Jim Shevock, tireless companion on GG IV in 2010.  He is certainly one of the best field men I have met, and as I reported earlier, he collected around 700 specimens of mosses, hornworts and liverworts on São Tomé and Prìncipe.  The first fruit of his labors has just been published in the journal, Tropical Bryology; the description a new endemic species of moss from the island of São Tomé, a new species record for the island, and three new records for the country as a whole.

Jim with type

Jim Shevock with type of Porotrichum saotomense Enroth & Shevock- RCD phot.

The new species (of the Family Neckeraceae) is just the beginning.   Shevock and colleagues have another paper in press on the hornworts and liverworts (moss relatives) of the islands,  and the rest of the mosses are still being analyzed.  Jim expects many new species and records among this latter group, and all of this continues to show how rich and unique the biota of the islands is and at the same time, how poorly known.

Early readers of the blog will know that I only include experts on poorly-known groups of plants and animals on these expeditions. Thanks to the excellent doctoral work of Dr. Martim Melo, who employed molecular as well as morphological analysis, we know more about the birds of São Tomé and Prìncipe than any other vertebrate group and for that reason, we have never been accompanied by an ornithologist nor have I written much about them in this blog. That said, I must confess to being an unabashed birder of many years, a passionate bird “freak” with a life list that I keep on Facebook.

me birding

Birding on Principe – note puddle.  Desjardin phot.  GG III

The birds (avifauna) of these two islands are remarkable.  One of the commonest birds on São Tomé, even in the densely populated capital, is the endemic warbler, the São Tomé Prinia.  You cannot miss them and yet, I have never been able to photograph one– they just don’t stop moving!  So early in GG V I challenged my two colleagues, photographer Andrew Stanbridge and Poster Project Head, Velma Schnoll to take just one photograph of the critter.  Here are the results (bear in mind these were taken on the grounds of the Omali Lodge, the upscale hotel of our supporters, Africa’s Eden)—decide for yourselves who won:

Andrew Prinia

São Tomé Prinia,  Prinia molleri . A. Stanbridge phot GGV

velma's prinia

Prinia molleri – V. Schnoll phot  GG V

Martim Melo and his colleagues have suggested that, taken together, the islands of São Tomé and Prìncipe have, per unit area, the highest concentration of endemic (unique) species in the world!  Below is a simple comparison between the heavily studied Galapagos Islands with a surface area of 8,000 km2 and our islands with only 1/8th the size.

bird comparison

The comparison above only tells part of the story; the  twenty two species of endemic Galapagos birds are basically descended from but three lineages: the mockingbirds, the flightless cormorant and the famous Galapagos finches; this is not surprising, given the great distance between the archipelago and South America.  On the other hand, the endemic birds of São Tomé and Prìncipe are from all over the phylogenetic map: flycatchers, pigeons, weavers, sunbirds, warblers, etc. etc.  Moreover, some workers recognize up to seven endemic genera here.  Here are just a few:

forest weaver

São Tomé forest weaver, Ploceus sanctithomae. Weckerphoto GG III

Speirops

(l) Sao Tome Speirops, Zosterops lugubris; (r) Principe Speirops, Zosterops leucophaeus. RCD and J. Uyeda phots. GG III

Newtons sunbird

Newton’s sunbird, Anabathmis newtoni. Weckerphoto – GG III

thrush

Sao Tome thrush, Turdus olivaceofuscus.  J. Uyeda phot- GG II

P golden weaver

Principe golden weaver,  Ploceus princeps. Weckerphoto  GG III

There are many other spectacular endemics on both islands; I have mentioned the island phenomena of gigantism and dwarfism in earlier blogs.  São Tomé Island is also home to the world’s largest weaver (Ploceus grandis), the world’s largest sunbird (Dreptes thomensis) and the world’s smallest ibis (Bostrychia bocagei)!

Many people support our work in the islands, and as you know I acknowledge financial help at the end of each blog.  Still others are old friends who live on the islands through whom we work and who welcome and assist us on each expedition. These too have appeared many times in the blog and they include the people of the organization STeP UP, where it all started (Ned Seligman, Quintino Quade and Roberta dos Santos), and our friend, Sr. Arlindo Carvalho, Director General in the Ministry of the Environment.

Arlindo

Arlindo Carvalho, Ministry of the Environment.  A Stanbridge phot GG V

Dr. Carvalho told me that during the past year, he has  shown this blog to delegates at a number of international meetings on Climate Change he has attended representing the Republic… a great honor for us.

GG V was unique in that it was dedicated to biodiversity awareness not pure science; because we were less in the bush and more in the inhabited areas, it led to our meeting some remarkable people who actually joined our efforts simply out curiosity about and interest in our activities.

eddie @ angolares

Velma Schnoll, Eddie Herbst and me at Angolares. A. Stanbridge phot. GG V

I first met Eddie Herbst at the Omali Lodge during GG IV where I gave one of my slide shows on island biodiversity.  Eddie was seriously interested in what we were doing at the time, and during GG V he actually joined us while we distributed our posters down the east coast of São Tomé (above).

But Eddie’s real job is senior pilot for Africa’s Connections, the small airlines that serves both islands and various mainland cities around the Gulf (he is also an ordained minister, but that is another story), and he is usually in the cockpit when we travel between the two islands.

Eddie Herbst

Eddie Herbst’s day job.   RCD phot GG V

During GG V, I asked Eddie if he could fly over a large mesa in the remote southwest corner of Príncipe, as I have always wanted to study the top and wondered about access routes.  I should mention that this is definitely not the usual approach route to the Prìncipe landing strip! To give you an idea of how rugged and difficult the southern part of the island is, below is a topographic image of this part of the island.

Bobke

Topo map of SW Principe. red and yellow dots on mesa.

as mesa

The mesa from the air.  RCD phot. GG V

And here is the view we got from Eddie’s flyover which, I might add, was an experience the other passengers will probably never forget!

On that same plane was a remarkable Portuguese couple, Frank and Ana. They were both fluent in English, warm and friendly, and we became friends almost immediately.

Frank and Ana

Ana and Frank on Principe.  RCD phot. GG V

Bear in mind that these two were full-paying guests at Bom Bom which is by far the most upscale and expensive venue on Prìncipe; yet rather than lying on the beach, or fishing or whatever,  Frank and Ana joined us each day as translators as we drove from school to school distributing our posters.  Through sheer good will and friendliness, they added greatly to the effectiveness of our small team.

F and A trans

Anna and Frank translating. A. Stanbridge phot.  GG V.

Believe it or not, also on Eddie’s plane was a fabulous lady named Marnie Saidi, also bound for Bom Bom Lodge  but not as a tourist.  Marnie is the new Project Manager for the Africa’s Eden Belo Monte project (which I will perhaps describe in another blog).  Like Frank and Ana, Marnie joined us for fun and acted as translator on our various daily tasks, including our meeting with the Regional President of Prìncipe, Toze Cassandra and the subsequent local television interview.

Marnie 2

Marnie Saidi translating during TV interview.  A. Stanbridge phot. GG V.

Marnie 1

Marnie Saidi and Velma Schnoll, Principe primary school. A. Stanbridge phot. GG V.

These serendipitous meetings were not limited to Prìncipe; during our final week on the big island we met a young Portuguese business man named Antonio Fernandes.  Just like Marnie, Frank and Ana, Fernando joined us on some of our longest poster trips during our last week… and I should mention he also had a functioning vehicle!. This is part of GG V I have not yet described.

antonio at ISP

Antonio, me and Quintino before ISP conference on Sao Tome.  A. Stanbridge phot. GG V.

Antonio trans

Antonio translating at Sao Tome secondary school. A. Stanbridge phot. GG V.

Finally, individual personalities are very important on expeditions; a little friction now and then is to be expected but on a research expedition which is mostly out in the bush,  this matters somewhat less than on an expedition such as GG V.  We were in daily contact with the citizens, teachers, ministers and other government officials and each of us had to be goodwill ambassadors every hour of every day.

My colleagues on this trip, Velma Schnoll, who took over the poster project here in the States and brought it to completion, and Andrew Stanbridge, the world’s largest and sneakiest photographer were both exactly that and much  more.  They will be more than welcome back on the islands at any time.

at Monte Cafe

Andrew Stanbridge at Monte Café, Sao Tome.   RCD phot. GG V

me and velma

Velma Schnoll and me at Principe primary school.  A. Stanbridge phot. GG V

Here’s the parting shot:

parting shot

“Education is an act of love and courage.”  Principe Secondary School, A. Stanbridge phot.  GG V.

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe  and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll and Sheila Farr Nielsen for helping make these expeditions possible.  Our expeditions can be supported by donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.


4 Comments »

  1. Dear Bob,
    amazing work as usual!

    Regarding the birds, do you know that the photo of the ‘São Tomé thrush’ is actually the photo of a Príncipe thrush T. xanthorhynchus. A newly split species (very well supported split – suffice it to say that I could identify the species in the photo even without knowing if the photo was taken on ST or P). This new Príncipe endemic is restricted to the most inaccessible areas of the forest and thrives in…the MESA

    MESA – most of the route to get there is straightforward, a large winding up path that was used to get the coconuts from the southern forests (Rio São Tomé) to Baía das Agulhas. The final bit is rather more tricky. When i first did it, I had a 15kg backpack, and just saw my guide pursuing forward as if the track had not changed a bit. In fact one needs to climb a vertical wall were water is running down from. Once up there one is in a very montane (misty, lots of mosses) atmosphere, albeit it is not that high. Great place.

    All the best
    Martim

    Comment by Martim Melo — July 6, 2011 @ 6:44 am

  2. Dear Martim,
    thanks for the kind words. Your identification of the Principe thrush came as a bit of a relief. I knew about the Prinicipe thrush and have the papers you sent but I was concerned about this photo and the yellow beak.. The picture was taken by Josef Uyeda, then my student, and I was sure he had taken that photo on the trail to Lagoa Amelia! Josef was with me on the 2nd and 3rd expeditions and is now a PhD candidate at Oregon State University (I will send his address by private email). He informs me that the picture was actually taken a few meters from the top of Pico do Principe, which he scaled in 2006. Thanks for the tips on how to approach the mesa. You may have seen the new holosaprophyte we found on the Rio Sao Tome. We will give the Mesa a shot next year… Was your guide, Manona? Again, thanks for the response.
    Bob

    Comment by bob — July 8, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

  3. Bob – I just love the picture of you and Velma at the Primary school. There are a lot of genuine smiles in this picture. Keep up the good work!

    Comment by Christina V. Fidler — August 1, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

  4. Thanks, Christina. we had a great photographer who captured a lot of the joy involved in this expedition

    Comment by bob — August 1, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

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