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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butterfly collection

It is becoming hard to keep up with all of the butterflies appearing in the forests. I keep finding new ones not seen before, plus butterflies that are becoming old friends. I think I will have to make a poster of favorites soon.

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return visit of the cuckoos

Seems the pair of cuckoos find enjoyment in luring me out into the garden. They are getting bolder. I think it is only a matter of time and I will have them eating caterpillars out of my hand.

Emerald Cuckoo prowling the branches of a Nauclea tree, hunting for caterpillars.

Giving me the eye, a cuckoo sits for a portrait in the garden.

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early morning on Vera Plaine

An early morning fog drifts out of the forests and across the savannas of Vera Plaines.

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a jewel among the leaves

African emerald cuckoo. In the past four years, I have never seen more than a glimpse of this elusive bird, often hearing its melody in the tree canopies. They blend in perfectly with the greens and yellows of leaves. If by chance I spot one, it is in flight from its perch, the metallic blue-green of wings vibrating in the sunlight, contrasting sharply with a deep citron-yellow breast.

And so, it was a rewarding morning when a pair of brilliant males flew into the garden, announcing their arrival with a piercing yodel-like melody. I have heard this before, so I was out of doors in a flash. They stayed in the garden for several hours, sometimes soaring directly above my head, other times leading me to a mimosa bush, or nauclea tree, as though waiting for me to catch up; hopping into view, giving me a look, then off to the next tree. Our gardener found my obsession to photograph them amusing, and when I lost track of the pair, he took pride in searching them out. Without doubt, one of the most enjoyable (and long awaited) photographic experiences I have had here in Yenzi.

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Vera Plaine enchanted forest


Nephila spider guards the trail entrance to the forest.

A trip to Vera Plaine to place a camera trap was Paul’s idea. He had happened across an animal den in the forest in the week previous, and, not knowing what creature was occupying, thought a camera monitoring the entrance might settle the mystery.

Paul, with daughters Eline and Amber, and myself got an early start on December 31st, arriving shortly after 9am. The forest was buzzing with insects. An immense Nephila spider hung in a web alongside the trail into the forest.

After setting the camera to monitor the mystery den, we wandered a trail for an hour before returning to savanna to look for butterflies.

A tiny scorpion, approximately three centimeters long, foraging in the leaf litter at the edge of the forest.

Good spotting by Eline and Amber discovered a tiny scorpion in the leaf litter beneath our feet, along with various beetles, crickets and grasshoppers hidden in the vegetation. Six hours after we left the forest, a lone chimpanzee would record as it passed the camera, moving through the forest we explored earlier in the day.

Large Chimpanzee passes the camera trap on its way through the forest.

Later that night, and throughout the two weeks of camera activity, a Giant pouched rat with family solved the den mystery. An impressive rat, this one looked to be at least a third of a meter in length with a long tail adding another third-meter. The “pouch” refers to large cheek pouches used to carry food to their dens for storage.  It was most active in the dark of night, from 2am to 5am, scuttling about in the surrounding forest understory, reshaping its burrow, cleaning itself. It appeared to have a mate and possibly one or two smaller pups scampering in and out of the burrow.

A Giant pouched rat captured by camera trap in front of its burrow in the forest.

A brush-tailed porcupine wandered through, 4:40am, early in the morning of January 2nd. Later in the week, the rat darted quickly into its burrow as three elephants wandered through shortly before 11pm. A little Blue duiker passed by on a sunny morning. A solitary chimpanzee or gorilla ambled past, 7:35am on the morning of the 8th, hard to identify through a rain-spattered lens.

Mother gorilla with baby riding bareback through a forest in Vera Plaine.

Most impressive was a band of 22 gorillas that recorded on the camera in the late afternoon of the 5th of January. It appeared two silverbacks were in the group, and at least 4 babies riding mother’s shoulders.

Part of the band of 22 gorillas captured by camera trap on the 5th January.

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butterfly at rest

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