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.
This has opened up the world of insect collecting to us. Sasha has decided to use her spare time to make an insect collection. I am more focused on dragonflies, though there is a fairly large by-catch that is being passed on to Sasha.
The insect collection will work towards identifying the insects that live in the different habitats of the reserve. This will help students studying topics such as what eats the plants, which in biology is called herbivory. We may also find some insects that have not been recorded in Nigeria before, or even a new species.
As part of the Project, Duke Knoop has worked on the butterflies of Ngel Nyaki, so we will send him ours to identify. My friend, The Captain (Dr Milen Marinov), at UC is a dragonfly expert, so he will be able to identify them for us, I hope.
Dragonflies are carnivores, hunting other flying insects, which have often fed on insects that eat plants. Analysing the DNA in the stomachs of the dragonflies is a quick way to sample for viruses from many different plants and insects in the environment, and is a great way to find new viruses. Dr Arvind Varsani and his research team are carrying out this research at UC.
The baturi visit the village
1 December, 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.
The Forest Project is the pride of the village, and we, as baturi (foreigners), always attract plenty of positive attention, especially from the kids. The Project employs 22 people from the village, on top of the 40 patrollers from the surrounding villages, making it one of the largest employers on the Plateau. This is much needed income in this small village.
After taking a walk through the village, and photographing many kids, we arrived at Musa’s compound. Musa is the field assistant who works on the putty nose monkey ecology research, and this is not his first wedding – he has two wives already! As a Muslim he is allowed up to four wives, so there is still room for one more. This practice must make for a severe shortage of brides.
We were later joined by Charles and Ezu. Ezu is our latest visitor, he arrived last night in the dark, after a 3 day trip from Ibadan, near Lagos. He is here to investigate moss and bryophyte research options, and is keen to enrol at UC if he can find a scholarship.
The wedding ceremony is still underway in the village, but I have returned to continue working – every hour is precious as there is so much to do in so little time.
Musa and his wives
Kids in the village
Dancing at the wedding
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. Dropbox is now also functioning – so soon we will be able to send images to PhytoImages.
While waiting for software to download and install I wrote up the methodology for the photo points from yesterday, and updated the map with the new location names.
Late afternoon I had a short break to wash my clothes in a bucket, and myself in a cold shower, before heading out to the grassland to photograph more plants as the wind had died down.
Whilst photographing a shrub from the potato family (Solanaceae), something caught my eye as it dropped from the bush, it could be a large insect, so I took a closer look.
What I found was even better, a small chameleon! This made my week as it is the first chameleon I have ever seen, and it is very cool. It is around 12 cm long and changes colour from emerald green to almost black. I have brought it back to the field station to take photos of it for identification and will return it to the forest tomorrow.
We have tentatively identified it as a Southern Peacock Chameleon (Trioceros wiedersheimi perreti) - but let me know if you have a better idea.
So all in all another good day on the plateau.
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.
As part of the review we have decided to name some of the hills and features to prevent confusion; they will be added to our large map of the area. Some of the new features include Usman’s Rock, Augustine’s Hill, One Tree Hill, and Hazel’s Hill – which has two peaks.
There is also now a Matt’s Hill – the furthest from the field station, and one of the steepest. Which suits me just fine. I am planning an early morning (6 am) hike there tomorrow to take photos looking back towards the field station. This will be the best light and there should not be too much smoke from the grassland fires that are starting to be lit in the afternoons (more on that another day).
Idriss also joined us on the hike and found more plants to photograph using his newly learnt skills, which was great to see.
Along the way we also photographed some cattle incursions into the Forest Reserve, these have been added to a report to the State Commissioner for the Environement that Hazel is preparing, as this is an ongoing issue.