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 Nigerian Adventures


Visa Application Submitted

6 October 2012. Christchurch, New Zealand

After filling in many forms, in triplicate, I have finally sent away for a Nigerian visa. This is the third time, but it does not get any easier. 

It was a strange process, first you complete an online form with all of your details and also then pay online. But you must also submit 3 copies of a different form, with the same details, and get a bank cheque as the online system does not work properly... Plus there is a list of about a dozen other pieces of information that you also have to collect together to send. >>More


It's in the post

8 October 2012, Christchurch, New Zealand

Over the weekend I ordered my own copy of the Woody Plants of Western African Forests, its an awesome book written by friend of the Nigerian Montane Forest Project Dr William Hawthorne. I found the book very useful last time I was at the field station so decided it would be good to have my own copy this time - though it is rather heavy. >>More


Vaccinated, mostly...

9 October 2012

As it has been 10 years since my first trip to Nigeria I had to renew my yellow fever vaccination and a few others. Luckily the yellow fever vaccine caused no irritation, but the tetnus vaccine made my arm feel like it was bruised for about 3 days. I also found out that there is no typhoid vaccine available in NZ (or apparently the world) - so I need to be extra careful not to ingest any Salmonella typhi. >>More


Wow! Unbelievable news

10 October 2012

Have you heard about the Nigerian scam where they ring you up to tell you your visa has been issued 24 hours after they receive the paperwork? Me neither. This must mean it is real. Wow - the High Commission in Canberra is awesomely efficient. So I am on track to catch my flight with 20 days to spare (last time it was 20 hours after waiting 30 days for the visa). >>More


Let the adventures begin

30 October 2012, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

I am finally all packed. The only downside to being a scientific photographer is the amount of camera gear you have to travel with, but the adventures and sights well and truly make up for it. I have wide angle, telephoto and macro lenses so that I can capture everything from monkeys at 50 paces to insects at 50 mm. My adventure starts in a couple of hours when I get on a plane headed for Ethiopia. I am touring around northern Ethiopia for a couple of weeks on holiday before making my way to Nigeria. >>More


Arrived on the plateau at last

Friday 23 November 2012, Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve, Mambilla Plateau, Nigeria

It has taken a bit longer than expected (as things often do in Nigeria), but I have finally arrived at the field station on Mambilla Plateau. We arrived at Yelwa village to a gathering of familiar faces, field station manager Misa, and my old friend Sidu Esa were among them. Sidu was with us on our very first treks in the region 10 years ago, and now works for the project. >>More



What’s so special about this forest?

24 November 2012, Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve, Nigeria

Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve is a hotspot. Not in the on fire type of way, at least not any more due to the control of burning on the periphery, but in biodiversity. It is one of the few montane (high) forests in West Africa and is home to many IUCN Red List species (a list of threatened species), from trees to frogs.

The Nigerian Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti), the most endangered of the four subspecies of chimpanzee is the highest profile species living in this forest. >>More


In search of the weird and the wonderful

25 November, Fragment B, Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve, Nigeria

What’s red, has spikey hooks like velcro and is 7mm across? I don’t know either – at least not yet. We found this fruit while out photographing this morning; it was attached to a plant that looked a lot like a kiwifruit vine, growing through an Anthocleista tree. This is just one of the weird and wonderful plants we have found. Idriss Musa, field assistant assigned to the PhytoImages project, is with me to learn botanical photography techniques and a bit of plant taxonomy. The purpose of this project is to photograph the plants of the reserve and upload them to an online database for identification. >>More


Panic in the weaverbird colony

26 November 2012, field station, Ngel Nyaki, Nigeria

“Grab your camera,” yelled Charles as he was passing the kitchen building.  I was on the veranda identifying plants collected this morning. It was then that I heard the commotion in the avocado tree, home of the weaverbirds (Ploceus cucullatus). Something was up. >>More



A very nutty project

27 November 2012, field station, Ngel Nyaki, Nigeria

If only you could hear what I hear. There is currently a melodic pounding sound coming from the kitchen as our latest culinary idea takes shape – peanut butter. It all started a copule of days ago when Sasha and I had walk into Yelwa village, about 40 minutes away. While there we decided to do a bit of shopping at the market. I spotted some peanuts and asked how much, to which the answer was 150 Naira, about US$1, so I asked for two portions – a couple of handfuls of peanuts would be good for the walk back. It was a bit of a surprise when I was given several kilos of peanuts. >>More


First you need a forest

28 November 2012, Field station, Ngel Nyaki, Nigeria

To be able to research a montane forest, you have to have a montane forest. Poaching, tree felling, burning and cows; just some of the threats faced by the forest and its inhabitants. To ensure there is a forest in the future, patrollers are employed to guard the reserve. This morning they materialised, from what seemed like nowhere, to report news and receive updates from Hazel, the Project Director. Of great concern to them is when they will get paid, as money is now overdue due to funding delays by the state government, who is responsible for paying them. >>More


Taking a long term view from the hilltops

29 November 2012, Usman’s Rock, Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve

Snap… Snap… Snap… Usman slowly rotates through a 360-degree arc taking photos as he goes. He is not twirling on a rock just for fun, this is serious science. In order to see the small incremental changes in the forest over time, snapshots are taken from set photo points each year. Today I have joined Usman and the team to review the process, write up the methodology and ensure that the data being collected is the best it can be, now and in the future. >>More


A colourful end to another busy day

30 November 2012, Field station, Ngel Nyaki

I managed to drag myself out of bed at 5:50 am this morning to go and photograph the forest early, as promised. Sitting on top of Augustine’s Hill I was able to watch the sun rise over Yelwa village. I took a range of photos and even found more plants to photograph before arriving back for breakfast at 7:30. I then put my IT Tech hat on and fixed one of the computers and installed the imaging software on it, ready to teach Idriss the how to manipulate images. >>More


The baturi visit the village

1 December, 2012, Yelwa village, Nigeria

We should have been in formal dress to visit the village today. Alas, we only have clothes for working in the forest, but at least I did my washing yesterday and so have a clean shirt on. After a busy day uploading photos, identifying plants, designing experiments and fixing computers, Sasha and I took the thirty-minute walk into Yelwa village. We are going to Musa’s wedding. >>More



To catch a killer

2 December 2012, Grassland, Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve, Nigeria

The great dragonfly hunt is on. Yesterday, Bobo, the field station watchman, took some netting I found in the store room into the village, this morning he returned with it stitched into bags to make nets. After the addition of a length of wire (a bit thicker than #8), a length of plastic piping, a stick and some old bicycle tubing, we had an insect net. Sasha made another out of a short pointy stick and some thin wire. >>More


Hunderds of cages, thousands of seeds, and tons of logistics

3, December 2012, Field station, Ngel Nyaki

Hazel, Sasha and Misa have ironed out the last of the logistics for two big experiments that are soon to be set up. Everyone will be called on to help as 600 cages need to be made and then carried into the forest, and thousands of seeds have to be sorted. It’s about to get very busy around here. Hazel’s experiment is on plant herbivory and requires the cages to keep different animals and insects out. This will help to understand who is eating the leaves of the seedlings. >>More


A burning issue

4 December 2012, the grassland, Ngel Nyaki

Where there is smoke, there is fire, and lots of it. The annual burning of the grassland has well and truly started. The fires are started each afternoon by the Fulani cattle herders to burn off the dry grass and promote new growth.

The Fulani have been here for many years, but in more recent times, population pressure and a lack of enforcement, has led to widespread incursions into the forest reserve. Some Fulani have now become settled in these areas and it is hard to get them out again, and find somewhere for them to go. >>More

Clever chimps

5 December 2012, Ngel Nyaki forest, Mambilla Plateau, Nigeria

The chimpanzees in Ngel Nyaki forest have learnt a few new tricks. Paul Dutton, a UC PhD student, has recorded them using tools in a novel way, and these findings are soon to be published in a scientific paper. On the ground here, Musa and Alfred have spent the past few days looking for the chimps. Today they think they got close as they found a fresh nest. Hopefully in the next few days they may be able to locate them. >>More


Into the heart of the forest

6 December 2012, the forest core, Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve

Why are some of the tree species so rare in this forest? What is stopping their seeds from developing into trees to replace the adult population? Are there genetic consequences of having such a low number of individuals of a species? There are so many scientific questions waiting to be asked in this forest; plenty of scope for research projects for years to come. Josh Thia, an MSc student from UC, is just starting a project on some of these rare trees. He will arrive at the end of the dry season in April, when his trees of interest will be fruiting. >>More


Are rats the real hero’s?

7 December 2012, The forest edge, Ngel Nyaki

Elephants used to roam this forest. The elephants are now extinct, but there remain tree species, such as Carapa, whose seeds have evolved for dispersal by elephant. The seeds of Carapa are encased in a large, hard, fruit. When ripe, it falls from the tree and cracks open, releasing the seeds, which are about the size of a ping pong ball. Part of Babale’s PhD has been to investigate secondary dispersal by animals. >>More


A bird in the hand, and me in the bush

8 December 2012, Fragment C, Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve

Have you ever seen a furry bird? I have. This afternoon I joined Charles at the forest edge to mist net birds for his research. Charles is building an interaction web for sunbirds and the trees that they pollinate. He would like to find out how the birds interact with the trees and which are the dominant species. Sunbirds are amazingly colourful birds, with bright metallic coloured feathers. They are much like hummingbirds in size and flight habits. >>More


A slow walk Sunday

9 December 2012, Main forest, Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve

When I am out with my camera, I walk slowly. If I move too fast I miss the detail, and in the detail is where the beauty often hides. This usually causes annoyance to anyone with me, as we do not get very far, very fast. This is compounded when I am botanising, especially in a new environment, as there is just so much to see. >>More



Cuisine, Nigerian style

10 December 2012, Ngel Nyaki field station

Clambering around in the forest gives you an appetite. Thankfully we have cooks at the field station to keep us fed. On previous trips I have struggled to get enough food as I eat rather a lot, though where it all goes I have no idea. Our staples are rice, beans, spaghetti, yam (like taro), plantain and sweet potato with a tomato based sauce. These are supplemented with eggs, peanuts, avocados, papaya and pineapple. Sometimes these items are served alone; sometimes they come in, what is to us, weird combinations. >>More


But wait there’s more, so much more

11 December 2012, Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve

Tomorrow morning I begin my journey home, it will take 4 days. But there is so much still to tell you. Today was no less busy than any other day. We were on the path by 7:30 am today, and not back for until almost 2pm for a late lunch. Todays mission was to go down to the stream at the bottom of transect 5. Today was the day of the caterpillar, with hundreds descending from the canopy on silken threads. I took over 350 photos, mostly of plants, not the hairy caterpillars. >>More


Home again

16 December 2012, Christchurch, New Zealand

Made it back to NZ, after a long tiring journey. Ended up having 2 nights in Yola as the flights were full on Thursday due to the American University starting their christmas holidays, luckily I had a day up my sleeve for just such an event. In Nigeria, this sort of incident happens regularly so you have to be prepared to go with the flow and hope it all works out in the end - which, from my experiences, it usually does. >>More



The first 500+ photos now online

11 June 2013, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

It has been several months since I returned from the field station, but the work continues. My evenings and weekends are still full of thoughts of Nigeria as I sort the photos and identify the plants. Every photo I look at brings back the memories of the day I photographed it, from the sound of the birds in the forest to the itch of the caterpillars crawling down my arms. >>More


Progress continues, long after the trip ends


29 June 2014, Christchurch, New Zealand


It may have been 18 months since I returned from Nigeria, but it is never far from my mind. I have been busy identifying the plants, learning plenty of new taxonomic terms along the way. There are now close to 1000 images on PhytoImages from the trip. I contacted Marco from the West African Plants - A Photo Guide website, and he was very happy to take my photos too. Our little reserve is a biodiversity hotspot so has many plants interesting plants that are not found elsewhere. >>More