08 May 2015

Rumpi Hills Revisited

In July 2014, during my whirlwind tour of South-west, Cameroon, one place I greatly enjoyed was the forested Rumpi Hills near Dikome-Balue, a place I spent two days with Moses and regretted not being able to spend more time. Despite my brief visit (and the frequent rains), I saw a multitude of great birds, including Woodhouse's Antpecker, Western Tinkerbird, and Cameroon [African] Pipits.

In mid-March, I found myself heading back there, this time with the University of Kansas. We crammed into our caravan of four-wheel drive pick-ups, and headed up into the mountains. The road, markedly improved from the last time I visited, was still scarred from the rainy season. Road improvements were noticeable, as culverts were being installed along the many creek crossings. Those that had not yet been fixed were still in terrible condition, however, and brought back flashbacks from the rainy season. A lone semi stood derelict in the road halfway to the village as well, a somber reminder that errors in this part of the world are not easily fixed.

We arrived at the village late in the afternoon, and spent the night in an old missionary home above the town. The next morning, we hiked into the village for a traditional blessing ceremony before our work in the forest could begin. The morning was perfect; light clouds wrapped around the summits of the peaks, and Luehder's Bushshrikes purred in the roadside vegetation. We gathered in the chief's home, and met with the village elders to discuss our work, arrange guides, and accept the blessings they offered us.

Elminia longicauda (African Blue Flycatcher)
African Blue Flycatchers (Elminia longicauda) were commonly seen in the farms and fields surrounding Dikome-Balue.

Our group headed up into the mountains, searching for an appropriate campsite for the coming week. Our choice was made easy as the road grew progressively worse, and we found a nice flat area near a creek at the edge of secondary forest and the primary Afromontane forest that cloaked the hills. Scaly Francolins called from the surrounding scrub, Crossley's Ground-Thrushes (a surprisingly common bird!) sang from the adjacent forest, and Mountain Sooty-Boubous let out their whip-cracks from the dark understory.

Camp soon became a home away from home, as we surveyed the surrounding hills. Mark and I roamed the hills every morning, almost every day adding new birds to our list. Family groups of White-throated Mountain-Babblers could be seen traveling with Gray-headed Greenbuls, and one morning we even lucked upon a pair of Green-breasted Bushshrikes foraging near the road. Occasional flocks of White-throated Bee-eaters would cross over the ridge, and a lazy afternoon near camp yielded a displaying Lyre-tailed Honeyguide.

Muscicapa infuscata (Sooty Flycatcher)
Sooty Flycatcher (Muscicapa infuscata) near Dikome-Balue, Rumpi Hills. This is one of the only records of the species from the range, and was part of a pair that was nest building in a large snag.

Our week in these hills was one of the most enjoyable weeks of field work I've ever had in my life. The camp atmosphere was almost never less than jovial, and the multitude of amazing birds (and other animals) meant that there was never a dull moment.

Arizelocichla montana (Cameroon Mountain Greenbul)
Cameroon Mountain Greenbul (Arizelocichla montana) near Dikome-Balue, Rumpi Hills.

Trioceros sp. (Large Chameleon)
Large chameleon (Trioceros sp.) near Dikome-Balue, Rumpi Hills.

After our week of surveying was through, we bid our sad goodbyes to the amazing mountains, and headed back to the coast. The rest of our time in Cameroon was spent drying and cleaning equipment and ensuring that all of our information was well organized. As the rains increased, I spent my time hiding from the downpours watching movies as I finished formatting my eBird checklists. The brief breaks we did have from the weather allowed us to get out around Buea a little, including visiting the coastal city of Limbe and morning walks around our hotel. Our outings yielded several species we had missed in the field (including my first Eurasian Curlew in Africa), and were a pleasant way to enjoy our last days in the region.

Muscicapa cassini (Cassin's Flycatcher)
Cassin's Flycatcher (Muscicapa cassini) at the Limbe Wildlife Center, Southwest, Cameroon.

It was not long before we were boarding the planes in the hot Douala International Airport for the long journey home. Despite logistical difficulties, we all eventually made it back, and were soon put to work catching up on everything that we had missed during our month in the field.

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