Jan 07, 2012 Saturday afternoon and Lisa and Emily and I are driving up to Vera Plaine to retrieve my stealth camera placed on a forest trail two weeks ago. Andrew showed me a compelling site he had discovered a few weeks back. The trail was well worn with elephant sign and looked promising. We had hiked in 40 meters and set up the camera to monitor a junction in the trail.
In all, there were 22 new images on the camera, mostly elephants at broadside as they walked into a picture from behind the camera, a few mystery exposures, and one pleasing image of an elephant passing through at 3:05am on the previous night. It is encouraging to see elephants in Vera Plaine, for they remain hidden by day.
Emily, an intern for Smithsonian from Oregon, had just arrived in Gamba this morning, and a walk in the forest and exploration of Vera Plaine sounded like a good introduction to the landscape. We made several stops along the way to listen to birdcalls, appreciate the forest-savanna mosaic, picnic and enjoy a pleasant Saturday afternoon.
The trek to recover the camera took us through a beautiful forested hillside and across a secluded savanna. The shaded forest air was damp with the scent of lush earth, lianas of the open understory twisting into the high canopy. The savanna dotted with characteristic termite mushrooms felt cooler and drier in the light breeze. We passed elephant hill on the way to hidden valley, where we stopped for a picnic, the view across the valley diffused in the thick air and animated by the distinctive calls of parrots, turacos, cuckoos, innumerable insects, and the occasional warning chirp of monkeys. On our way out of Vera Plaine, we drove through a patch of regrowth forest. The light was fading in the brief twilight, and birds were settling in for the night. A pair of black-casked hornbills drummed through the evening air, heavy wingbeats vibrating through the stillness. Grey parrots could be heard quibbling for their roost, and the cries of ibises drifted up from the distant valley. In the deepening shadows of the roadway before us, a slender black snake carved slowly across the road, from the side, its barely perceptible movements resembling a caterpillar following the contour of the laterite roadbed. We got out for a closer look and noticed its high profile, narrow, ribbon-like build, the small triangular head slinking low to the ground in slow progress as the 1.5 meter mostly black snake undulated into the fern cover at the side of the road. This serpent didn’t appear bothered or skittish in our presence; conversely, it seemed to exude a confidence that it was equipped to defend itself if necessary, and we cautiously kept our distance. It will take some further study to try to determine the identity of this snake.