Mark Robbin's enthusiasm was palpable. We waited for the car to arrive, calling out birds at the hotel. Common Bulbuls sang from the surrounding vegetation, Chattering Cisticolas called from the undergrowth, and Village Weavers paraded past with their palm fronds towards their favorite nesting tree. It was Mark's first time in Cameroon, and it was clear that he had been dreaming of visiting these mountains since he was my age. We birded every second until our friend, Moses, drove up to take us to the trailhead for the Guiness Tract forest of Mt. Cameroon.
Mt. Cameroon on a clear day from Buea. We birded the forest below the grassy upper slopes. (For those of you wondering, treeline is ~8,000 feet (2,000 meters) and the summit around 14,000 feet (4,000 meters)!
It was both of our first times birding the massif, and though Mark was crazy about seeing his first Afromontane birds, I was almost equally excited about birding the tropics with Mark for the first time. Ever since I was young, I had been reading about tropical bird expeditions in which he had been involved, and now I was part of one. His knowledge regarding the world's avifauna was obvious from our discussions, and I was extremely interested in seeing his unique perspective on the birds of the region. That is, if I could keep up with him. From the outset, Mark was almost running up the cinder-strewn trails of the mountain, eager to get as high in elevation as possible before our early-morning deadline to return. I felt like an anchor constantly dragging him back, getting caught up in the lower-elevation holarctic migrants as he sought out the endemic residents. We soon fell into a good birding pace, covering an extensive section of the mountain and spying some excellent montane species.
The farm fields at the beginning of the trail were surprisingly productive. A male Whinchat foraged in the furrows, while Western Yellow Wagtail and Tree Pipits flushed from the trail before us. The scattered scrub held weavers, nesting Yellow-billed [Black] Kites and cooperative pairs of Yellow-breasted Boubous.
Whinchat foraging on the lower slopes of Mt. Cameroon, Cameroon.
As we progressed up the mountain into the thicker forest, two things became abundantly clear: the Afromontane birds were amazing, and the amount of human disturbance in the forest on this side of the mountain was amazingly high. The trail was one of the most well-used trails I have ever used anywhere, and a constant stream of mountaineers and hikers was heading up and down the mountain at various stages in their trips. Birds were frequently flushed by large groups of people moving around, and farms and selective logging were evident in many areas. We were informed that the forest was in better shape further up the mountain and in other regions, but we were still amazed at the number of people.
Despite this, we were graced with a non-stop parade of amazing birds. Gray-green Bushshrike sang from thick submontane forest, Evergreen-forest Warblers skulked along the sides of the trails, and families of Chubb's Cisticolas betrayed their presence with their boisterous songs. Even the areas that possessed farms and logging were productive, providing more open habitat for Shelley's Olivebacks, Red-faced Crimsonwings and even a Gray Cuckooshrike! Mark and I were overwhelmed, at times reduced to merely shouting bird names at each other before switching places to see what the other person had been excited about.
Chubb's Cisticola fledglings sharing a fern branch on Mt. Cameroon.
Mountain Robin-Chat of the endemic Mt. Cameroon race on Mt. Cameroon.
Unfortunately, Mark and I only had a few hours to explore before we needed to be back in Buea. We left the mountain promising to come back and to spend more time. We barely made it high enough in elevation to see some of the endemic birds, but greatly enjoyed our introduction to the Cameroon mountains for the trip. (For those interested, our eBird checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S22121301)
From here, we headed back to Buea, and gathered our gear over several days during the concurrent workshop operated by Town Peterson and prepared to head deep into the lowland forests of Korup... To be continued!