After Mark Robbins and I left Mt. Cameroon, we were whisked away to our first field site: Korup National Park. Once again I was on the long road to Mundemba, but this time, the weather was completely different. The deep mudholes had long dried up, and as our visibility was once reduced by rain, it was now shrouded in dust from the parched roads. The lifted cars bounced and rattled down the dusty highways as huddled in our bush taxi. As Mark and I were in the taxi that possessed an air conditioner, we were relegated to the second position in our procession, only able to obtain glimpses of the forest through the veil of brown dust. Our only pause on our hectic drive towards the forest was when we got a flat tire on one of our vehicles. As the drivers fixed the car, we slipped off down the road to bird a little bit and start familiarizing ourselves with Cameroon's rich avifauna. As luck would have it, we had a flyover Abdim's Stork, an uncommon bird in this part of Cameroon, and our first Bristlebills of the trip.
Lesser Bristlebill (Bleda notatus) in Korup National Park, Cameroon.
After fixing the vehicle, we raced to Mundemba, where we had a brief (and, content-wise, disturbingly mysterious) lunch and headed for the bridge. The area was barely recognizable from the maelstrom I had seen in July. What was once a massive river was now a rocky riverbed, with water restricted to one small part of the channel. Given the amazingly dry conditions, it did not take us long to get across the river, and we were in camp by the early evening.
The next ten days, Mark and I stuck to our ornithological routines: we both left early (Mark earlier than I could manage!), and hiked several miles worth of trails obtaining recordings and observational records for the area. By mid-morning, we would return, eat a sandwich while we discussed identities and set up our nets for further surveying. Every morning held a mess of fantastic birds, and, even though it was my fourth trip to the region, every morning held something new and exciting. Bare-cheeked Trogons calls from the hillsides, a Yellow-footed Flycatcher foraged above a waterfall, and, perhaps most amazing of all, multiple Black-eared Ground-Thrushes were caught in some of our low elevation nets.
The rare Black-eared Ground-Thrush (Geokichla camaronensis), a bird that we caught several times in Korup but never saw away from the nets. The song of this species is still undescribed.
After the first four days, the rest of our party from Buea came out and joined us, as they ran the final segment of their Biodiversity Inventories Course and we continued with our ornithological surveys. The camp was vibrant and alive, with constant activity of some sort. Every day we encountered different animals as well: one morning we saw a distant group of Galagos, another morning I scared up what appeared to be a Bush Pig, and monkeys could be heard around the camp regularly.
There was a downside to the lowland forests, however. The heat and humidity led to us sweating constantly, and I often found myself simply going shirtless during the afternoons to avoid overheating. Unfortunately, the density of sweaty people led to the local bee population taking note of our presence, and the entire camp was infested with bees. The pit toilets were virtually unusable during daylight hours as the bees swarmed around anything they though may contain salt. Our own bodies would become covered with sweat bees whenever we stopped moving, and I was stung four times by the bigger honeybees that patrolled the camp.
On the plus side, we did have bee-eaters (such as this Black Bee-eater Merops gularis) that could be seen around camp.
Eventually, we grew tired of the heat, humidity, and insects, and prepared for our second field site: The Rumpi Hills. It was another area I knew from the previous year, and an area that I was extremely excited to return to...