A galago bounded across the road at broken bridge, probably coming down from the trees for water. Resembling a plump gray squirrel, the little primate froze momentarily facing the car in the middle of the track before better judgement prevailed, and it scampered back into the trees to disappear among the leaves.
I had just started my walk into the forest when a Blue-headed wood dove cruised into a tangle at the edge of the trail. This was a new sighting. The ruddy-colored bird with a steel-blue head paced along a branch looking agitated before fluttering off into deep forest. Crowned monkeys, their golden flanks and tail reflecting the sun’s rays, leapt into the air between trees, weightless, scrambling up the closest liana to retreat through the canopy. Countless Black-casqued hornbills sailed overhead on hissing wings, constantly squawking amongst themselves. A clan of White-crested hornbills swooped through the forest in their usual silence. First one, then the next would vault from tree limb, sailing through the air like on a trapeze, looping down through the understory before gliding back up to the canopy. They were following the retreating Crowned monkeys, on a hunt for insects or reptiles disturbed in the ruckus of departure. A small flock of Rufous-bellied helmet-shrikes were busy in the canopy above the trail, in the midst of a dazzling melody of buzzing, whistling, clacking, all the while spinning through the treetops from perch to perch. They reveal a black and white pattern in their wings that flickers like a strobelight when they take flight. It was turning into a brilliant day for spotting wildlife. The plethora of chimpanzee and gorilla prints along the trail were amazing, including a set of gorilla prints where a silverback appeared to be walking upright. What a sight that must have been.
It wasn’t until late that afternoon that I saw, turning a corner, what looked to be a large bird at the edge of the trail 20 meters before me. I didn’t know what else to think as I froze in my tracks in front of this gyrating blue motion with what resembled a pink neck and head thrown back. My first thought is a strutting cock guineafowl of some kind in a courtship dance. The colors might have been right, but the shape, not so convincing. It took several seconds before the blur of fur began to take shape of the backside of some primate digging in the earth. A mandrill! What an incredibly fortunate sighting. And to see it while still unaware of my presence. It must have been my father’s guidance long ago that brought me so close to this encounter, telling me how to step quietly while walking through the woods of my Minnesota youth. “Roll your foot from the outside in, don’t thump your heel” as he would demonstrate so effortlessly. I quietly knelt to watch the activity, not sure what might happen should the mandrill turn in surprise. He was cautious, constantly stopping to scan down trail. Perhaps he could smell that I had passed by earlier in the day, maybe he was picking up on my scent now. Then all of a sudden, he caught me in a sideways glance and without any hint of surprise or alarm, vanished without a sound….