Vera Plaines, flora+fauna

A Gabon coucal along a roadside entering Vera Plaines.

Jan studies a tree held captive under ropes of lianas in the forest.

In a velvety-rich cloak of orange, Acraea consanguinea comes to rest along a forest track.

A cluster of Cupidopsis cissus butterflies congregate on a mineral-encrusted root exposed on a savanna.

An impressive tree towers over Jan in a Vera Plaines forest.

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Onzan tree, Vera Plaines

Years ago, newly arrived in Gabon, I rode my bicycle to this trailhead and wandered through a most amazing landscape until waylaid by a torrential rainstorm. I sought refuge under this tree for what seemed like hours as the rains flooded the trail below.

Onzan tree, Odyendyea gabonensis, along a forest trail in Vera Plaines.

The oppressive atmosphere, thick with humidity and sweltering heat was transformed as the storm passed. A refreshed breeze danced beneath columns of rising steam. Birds high above filled the forest with melody, with crickets in chorus below. Today, when I see this tree, I think of that day from the past, and I feel like I am back in the company of a good friend.

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in memory, Anne Waerness-Vold

Lisa lights a candle in Vera Plaines for Anne.

A herd of 20 buffalo thundered across the savanna before us as Lisa and I crossed the forests and savannas of Vera Plaines. Our destination was the stunning overlook view across N’Dougou Lagoon to the mountains of Moukalaba-Doudou Park.

Camping back in August of last year was a special memory. The cool night of dry season gave way to the soft light of a hazy sunrise. The quiet of our morning in paradise was soon shattered by the buzz of motorbikes, quads and cars as friends ascended the distant hills to converge on our camp. Luckily we had been expecting company, among them Tormod on his bike and Anne arriving in the comfort of Toyota, bringing a delicious breakfast to share.

A candle in celebration of Anne Waerness-Vold and her time among friends in Gabon.

Lisa and I thought it would be a fitting place to light a candle in honor of Anne, who passed away on Saturday in Muscat, Oman. Our sympathy goes out to Tormod, and sons Mats, Andre, and Aleksander. We keep Anne in our memories and celebrate the time Anne spent in the company of friends here in Gabon.

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herd of buffalo

I could see a piece of light brown, looking out of place at the edge of the forest. Heading back after a check of my camera traps, I was crossing a narrow savanna on Vera Plaines. With nowhere to hide, I sat down in the tall grass and watched as a bull and large female buffalo browsed onto the savanna. Soon after, a scuffle of three juveniles erupted out of the forest in a rocking gait. Two females and a calf followed. Eight buffaloes in total, browsing on the savanna before me, 120 meters away and apparently unaware of my presence as a light breeze put me in a downwind advantage.

A herd of Forest buffalo meander onto a savanna in Vera Plaines.

Soon enough they were having a lie-down after meandering to within 80 meters, barely noticing a troop of chimpanzees in a howling riot down the distant forested valley. The bull rose to his feet as some creature snuffled through vegetation crowding the savanna, but whatever it was moved back into the forest.

The large female began to take an interest in my silhouette crouching in her line of sight and rose to have a better look. She began to approach, more out of curiosity than confrontation, with several of the juveniles following in half-interest. At 60 meters, I began to feel exposed and decided to rise and move off perpendicular to their approach. No sooner, and the whole herd jumped to their feet and made their getaway run back to the forest, the grunting and crash of branches defining their course until they faded from hearing, crickets and grasshoppers filling in the aural void.

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reflections on a quiet river

A mangrove among raffia palms reflects in the waters of the Moambi River.

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forest sprites

Floating down from high in the canopy on a barely perceptible updraft, Cymothoe beckeri rests on a leaf overhead.

A light mist drifted through the forest, the leaves reflecting the gray sky as if waxed and polished. Far off in the forest, a flock of dwarf hornbills whined and whistled their odd, intertwined melodies, punctuated by chirps and twitters of birds high in the towering trees. No doubt they are alert to my progress.

Aterica galene (left) and Bebearia chilonis dry their wings in the diffuse sunlight of the forest understory.

An opening in the canopy cast a glowing light across the trail ahead. Butterflies are drawn to this light, bouncing through the understory to alight on a glistening leaf, golden wings spread as if offering a feast of color to the heavens. Some never sit still, others attempt to hide in plain sight. Cymothoe, Euphaedra, Aterica, Graphium, names as exotic as their painted wings. I am learning the names of these fleeting forest sprites, hoping maybe they will linger when called. So far, this remains doubtful.

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gorillas of Vera Plaines

A young silverback gorilla with family crosses a forest track, early afternoon.

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skull, Yellow-backed Duiker

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just monkeying around…

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one day in the forest

Elephant feeding along a forest track in the afternoon.

Partly hidden under vegetation, a duiker browses across the forest track.

7:36 in the morning of Sunday, January 18. The forest is quiet, bathed in the soft light of an overcast day. Seventy-one degrees Fahrenheit. It will warm throughout the day until it reaches 77 degrees under a moonless night sky. A duiker of medium build, perhaps a Bay duiker, browses across the overgrown forest track, where a camera trap has been installed. The duiker pauses to look for danger before crossing the trail. As it feeds, its head disappears below stalks of wild ginger and other vegetation crowding the track.

Thirty minutes later, a gorilla family enters the scene. A mother with newborn in the distance, silverback in the foreground, and juvenile, mostly obscured in the undergrowth, arrive at the forest track from the East. They are possibly out for breakfast having left their roost from the previous night. The female pauses, positioning her tiny infant on her forearm after it slides from her back. The silverback glances left toward camera before shifting his attention to the mother with infant on his right.  Looking uncannily human, the female kneels on one leg, resting an elbow on her knee, her right arm cradling her baby. She then boosts the infant to her shoulder under the watchful eye of the silverback before continuing into forest. A second juvenile follows the female, and beyond, another female with infant ambles through the vegetation. The juvenile following the silverback appears to study the camera for a moment before crossing the track. Finally, in the distance, the last female crosses the track continuing into forest. Seven gorillas, their destination left to imagination.

Later, after nightfall, a family of four elephants make their way up the track. The family, possibly two sisters, a baby of a few months, and a juvenile, stop to feed on fallen Ntom fruits in the forest litter. They circle for a quarter of an hour beneath the slender but tall Ntom on the track before wandering off into the night.
The forest is lively here. This is where the giant pouched rat has a den under a fallen tree. Yesterday, Saturday morning, another chimpanzee passed through, and elephants have been coming every day to feed on the forest fruits.
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