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.
The Project Manager, Misa Zubiaru, is currently waiting in Jalingo, over 4 hours drive away, for the cheque. We have our fingers crossed that he will have it by Friday, as the patrollers have not been paid for several months.
When the Project first started, 8 years ago, there were no patrollers, and the forest reserve was being pillaged at an alarming rate. Hazel worked hard to secure funding from A.P. Leventis to employ 15 patrollers. Now that the state government has taken over the funding the Project is now able to support around 40 patrollers.
The forest has responed well to the decreased incursions and the wildlife is starting to rebound.
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. But that is when Sasha hatched the plan to make peanut butter. After a bit of research and borrowing of a local food processor, she is in business. Thump, thump, thump. It may take a while, as there only seems to be one setting on the processor – manual!
A short while later… It tastes good, and is about to get even better with the addition of some local honey.
Out here we get a bit food obsessed. We mostly eat rice, pasta and beans, and always with the same tomato based sauce. Yesterday, Sasha joined Sambo, our cook, to do the weekly shop at Ngaroge, a bigger market town further along the Plateau. She came back with sardines, honey, avocado, and a pineapple; all sought after treats for us after a day in the field.
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.
With camera in hand I ran over to Charles. He had spotted a snake attacking a chick in one of the nests in the tree. I managed to get a few photos of it devouring the chick before it disappeared from sight. With the aid of a stick Charles managed to coax it out of the tree, by which time I had my shoes on. We were able to get some more footage of the metre long serpent before it slithered away down the hill and back into the forest.
We are lucky to have a reptile book here; we are unlucky that it is in French. But at least it had some photos and Charles has a computer with a translator, we have tentatively identified it as an Angolan green snake (Philothamnus angolensis).
For me it’s a reminder to always keep an eye out for animals (and plants) that have rather aggressive defence tactics. While in the forest ants and flies often bite us, they are annoying, but harmless. But there are bigger and nastier things out there, all with their own unique way of fending us off, from snakes to spiders, hairy caterpillars to the itch-bean vine.
As a kiwi lad who often roams free in the bush at home I have to remember to engage my senses each time I venture out, to avoid the fate of the weaverbird chick.
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 where experts can identify those that we cannot.
As the database grows we can create an online plant identification guide that is freely available to everyone. This will be extremely useful to visiting researchers who are faced with a whole forest of new plants, which can be a bit overwhelming – at least it was to me when I first visited 10 years ago.
Idriss is getting to grips with using an SLR camera for the first time, with more buttons and dials than he has had to deal with before. But he is a fast learner and will be producing great photos in no time.
You will get to know many more of the field assistants over the next few weeks, they are all locals from Yelwa village who are employed by Hazel to keep the project running smoothly.
The PhytoImages project is a collaboration Hazel and I have set up with Dr Pieter Pelser who is the plant taxonomy and systematics expert at UC.
On a lighter note, I finally took a shower today – the first since Thursday, which has washed off a bit of my tan – maybe I was a bit dirty. With a limited supply and only cold water showers are not an everyday occurrence out here in the bush.