Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cameroon - rainforest

In October 2007 I snuck away to Cameroon for a birding trip with my good ol' birding buddy Adam Walleyn. With 520 species of birds and many great mammals seen in a month it was an amazing trip. In fact, as this was my first time birding in Africa, not only were most of the species new but i saw a bunch of families that I had never seen before – very exciting! Cameroon is an awesome country, quite safe to travel in, though not exactly comfortable (and you have to be a little careful to bargain for the right price). The southern portion of the country holds decent tracts of magnificent West African lowland rainforest and along the western border with Nigeria lie a series of endemic-bearing mountains and plateaus including the famous Mt Cameroon and the Adamawa Plateau. As you travel north things get drier and transition to more open woodland with superb gallery forest around water. This eventually transitions into the true Sahel region – a band of acacia and savanna scrub lying south of the true Sahara. Much of the diversity we enjoyed was thanks to these enormously different life zones. It was definitely not the best time to travel to Cameroon (end of the wet season) but it did not stop us!

1. "The Dark Continent" - rainforest

This first set of images come mostly from the deep dark rainforest of the south (sites like Korup National Park). The first image is of the magical "Rockfowl" or "Picathartes", which is a family containing only 2 species, both endemic to West Africa. This family is characterized by a patch of colorful bare skin on the head. These birds are secretive denizens of the forest floor and difficult to see (unless you know a nest site). They rely on caves and overhanging rocks to use as nest sites (they plaster a mud cup onto the wall) and use their powerful long legs to climb vines and hop across the rocks. They are also one of those great African mysteries in that their order is "incertae sedis", i.e. no-one knows who they are related to. I was very lucky to get this close to these amazing birds. This is the Red-headed Picathartes.

Also in the dark understorey of the forest was this Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye, another unique African group/family with their peculiar eye-wattles. These first 2 photos give you sense of the deep dark forest!

Moving higher up into the middle layer of the forest, here is my attempt at an artistic shot (i.e. blurred) of a displaying Rufous-sided Broadbill.

Another endemic African family is the Turacos – simply gorgeous birds that derive their color from a unique pigment (turacoverdin) found nowhere else in nature as far as we know. Their colours are spectacular but they can blend in to the canopy foliage like you wouldn't believe – the first shot is of the lowland species Green Turaco

followed by their montane cousin the Yellow-billed Turaco.

Out in the open on bare branches is the huge White-thighed Hornbill (hearing their wings overhead made me reminisce of the South East Asian forests)

while out by the river is the strange Hamerkop (monotypic family)

and the classy Rock Pratincole.

Sitting on a wire near the village is one of the many beautiful kingfishers of the region – Woodland Kingfisher.

Many of these photos can be seen in larger formats in my webpage

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