Feb 2, 2012 Several days past I was riding home from the terminal. Beneath a cluster of large trees, I hear the rustling of monkeys overhead and stop to observe. Something is fruiting in the canopy above and the monkeys are eating. Shells and other bits of vegetation drop to the ground below as a dozen monkeys course through the branches, purring and chirping. They are small, maybe Putty-nosed monkeys or Talapoins. Extremely agile, the acrobats gallop along limbs, trapezing between branches to disappear into a flush of leaves.
From deep in the forest a sudden coughing alarm-bark of a troop of Red-capped Mangabeys freezes the action overhead. The large, grey and white monkeys with the rusty cap send up supporting alarm-barks from individuals throughout the surrounding forest. I spot a movement above, fractured through openings in the branches. Soaring at the height of the canopy, a Crowned eagle surveys the forest below, its ragged crest catching puffs of air as it casts a penetrating gaze down into the forest. Evidently it is hunting and has circled back, for the alarms resume once again. With a wingspan approaching two meters, these large, powerful eagles would have no trouble plucking a monkey from its perch.
On a slightly smaller scale, I was riding down the tarmac in the direction of Colas beach late yesterday afternoon to look for a trail crossing the road as a possible location for a camera-trap. The roadway bisects a section of forest adjoining a swamp where a gorilla has been spotted crossing between forests over the past few weeks. I reach the forest objective, eight kilometres from Yenzi, and am watching silently by the roadside, annoyed by the high-pitched, jibbering chatter of a pair of Reichenbach’s sunbirds holding court from the top of several spikes of young Loganus trees. Their iridescent blue heads and throats sparkle in the late afternoon sunlight, contrasting sharply with the olive-green backs and soft gray bellies that turn to pale yellow under a dark tail. I come to understand their needling, for a few metres away, suspended from a fork in a shrub, their nest hangs perilously close to the ground, and they seem anxious to return. This woven basket of grass and white papery bark has an awning incorporated over the tiny hole, possibly to conceal the contents from overhead predators, or provide shade from midday sun, or channel rainwater away from the opening.
Leaving the sunbirds to regain their territory, I peddle silently to the swamp side of the forest. Here I notice a red flicker of color in the vegetation fronting a pool of water. A pair of Black-bellied seedcrackers materialize between leaves on a low bush. A brilliant crimson head, breast, and tail accent the heavy, seed-crushing black beak, black wings, and black belly of the male; the female, with crimson head and tail softly morphing into an olive-brown body. Picking among grass stems, chattering a muted, constant tak-tak-tak between them, they share the seeds from a head of grass, then follow each other deep into cover, finally poking through to take flight in tandem, disappearing into the evening sky.
Oh, and now, today, I am reminded not to forget the little Pin-tailed Whydah, as I see it fly from the roadside in Yenzi. The male, like the North American chickadee in size and appearance, but with a heavy, orange, seed-cracking bill, sports a long, flowing tail, black, almost 20cm long. It seems to struggle to pull it’s tail through the air, oversized for such a small bird, sounding an electric tzip-tzip, tzip-tzip, as it flutters on tiny wings into the Samanea tree. I see them often in Yenzi, usually where there are fewer trees and taller grasses.
I would like to photograph these jewels of the forest and savanna, but it might require a powerful new camera, a 6000mm lens, tripod, and the patience of a saint.
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