night, Sapo National Park, Liberia

Returning to camp at the end of a day in the forest.

Returning to camp at the end of a day in the forest.

Darkness has barely settled over the forest, the last of the hornbills crying above the deep shadows. A cricket chorus keeps the encroaching night silence at bay while katydids add a whirr like squeaking tricycles high in the treetops. A few dawdling fireflies appear at the edge of the clearing, maybe drawn to the smoldering embers of a dying fire. They circle about in traces of smoke, then whisk into the heavens like errant stars in a vaporous night sky.

Sleeping is fitful, the tent stuffy and hot, my campmat offering little cushion against the solid hardwood floor. I awaken at the slightest sound. A trill far off in the forest, probably a bushbaby. These little primates, galagos, scramble like acrobats through the forest understory in search of insects, their large eyes and oversized ears giving a resemblance to alien squirrels. A stick breaks nearby, and I am awake to ponder that mystery. Something lands on the zinc roof and scuttles to the edge. Before dawn a shriek pierces the darkness coming from deep forest. The shrieking continues, growing louder as if approaching camp. We decide it is likely a tree hyrax, a small rabbit-sized creature that spends most of its life climbing through trees, eating fruits, leaves and twigs. Their haunting cries and screams are the soundtrack of nightmares.

Day breaks in Sapo as a pair of Yellow-billed turacos alight in the canopy above camp.

Day breaks in Sapo as a pair of Yellow-billed turacos alight in the canopy above camp.

Sunrise, hidden by forest, is announced by a flock of turacos settling into the canopy. Yellow-billed turacos. Their crowing laughter at first light greets the morning, first one, then another, then many birds from throughout the forest take up the call and response. These green and blue birds are difficult to spot high in the forest canopy until they take flight, the iridescent red of their wingtips flashing through the trees. They leap and run in the uppermost branches of the forest in search of insects.

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