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. This time I brought with me some protein powder, but have only used a small amount, as the food is plentiful.
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. Have you ever had rice and spaghetti with a tomato sauce, plantain chips, pineapple and an omelette all on the same plate? I have and it is a delicious combination.
Our daily bread comes in unsliced loaves, all the better for me to cut thick slices to drizzle honey over for breakfast. We get a range of different brands, depending on what is available in the village, my favourite brand is Uncle UC, maybe UC has more of a presence on the plateau than we realise.
Charles has brought a chicken which we will have tomorrow night, my last night. Hazel has always refused to allow chickens to be raised at the field station due to the early morning crowing that tends to accompany them. But this one has been rather subdued, so far, not crowing until after we are safely up at 7am.
In the village you can get everyday items such as packets of biscuits, tins of milk powder and the occasional Star beer.
Treats such as oats and snickers bars can be brought up from Jalingo, over 5 hours away by car. At present there is someone coming or going each week, so you don’t have to wait long.
A big thanks goes to Usman Two and Sambo for preparing our daily meals, without a full stomach it would be impossible to work long days in the field, and evenings in the lab.
Usman Two doing the dishes, he has been offered an indoor sink, but prefers the outside tap.
In the forest. Idriss the photographer, Hamasumo the plant expert and Peter the tree climber. Many of the plants have leaves out of reach, so an able tree climber is necessary.
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, which is where many of my photos are hidden. 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.
So I was a little concerned this morning when Sasha Joined Idriss and I to walk down the Ndombo Ingishi track through the main forest. Luckily Sasha had a last minute thought to go and grab one of our homemade butterfly nets, now she had something to slow her down too.
We proceeded slowly down the track; I kept finding new plants to photograph, Sasha new butterflies to catch, and Idriss a bit of both.
Idriss, it turns out, is an expert butterfly catcher. He claims he learnt his technique, which looks a little bit like a whirlwind, from me. I am not so sure.
We came across an area covered by small red sticky seeds. We investigated closely as Sasha is looking for more seeds for her experiment. My guess of Pittosporum, turned out to be correct when I later checked the identification. We collected a small bag of seeds before continuing to peer at plants and squeeze butterflies to death.
You must always be aware of what you are standing on in the bush, as ants are everywhere. The little ones are no problem, but the red soldier ants can inflict a painful bite. These soldiers took a dislike to Idriss standing on their trail, attacking him with vengeance. He quickly retreated a safe distance, whilst beating at his ankles to dislodge the attackers.
We made it back to the field station around 2pm for a late lunch. Sasha has over 20 new butterfly specimens, and I, 230 photos to add to the database. A very productive Sunday walk.
Idriss and Sasha in the forest searching for butterflies, and posing next to large leaves for me, to add scale.
Ants on trail - do not make them angry.
Herb with white flower - to be identified.
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.
The birds are being caught to measure how much pollen they are carrying in the feathers around their heads. By also identifying the pollen, he can work out which trees the birds have visited.
He has also been measuring visitation rates and abundance of sunbirds. This work is towards his PhD at UC. Once he has finished he will return to his lectureship position at Gombe State University, about 10 hours drive from here.
I was not much help with the mist netting as I disappeared into the forest with my camera, so as not to scare the birds. Along the steam I found plenty of new plants to photograph, including tree ferns and an amazing orchid, which had a flower spike that looked like a hairy caterpillar.
When I emerged from the bush, prompted by calls from Charles, he had caught two birds. One was a willow warbler and the other a mousebird.
The speckled mousebird (Colius striatus) is endemic to Africa and has very unfeather-like feathers. The feathers lack apteria at their base, which makes them appear more like fur than feathers. Thus the name mousebird.
Speckled mousebird with fur like feathers.
Hairy caterpillar like orchid flowers.
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. Primary dispersal is when the seed is first moved from the tree, in the tropics this is often by animals such as birds and monkeys, who swallow the seed whole, and later deposit in a new location. Secondary dispersal is when another animal then moves that seed from the forest floor. This work is now being extended by Hazel and Babale, in collaboration with Prof. PM Forget, from the Natural History Museum in Paris.
Today I joined a team heading out to search for Carapa seedlings in the fenced-off grassland. If there are seedlings in the grassland away from parent trees, they must have been moved there by animals.
At two sites over 20 seedlings and saplings were found, some up to 40 metres from a parent tree, and others uphill. So with no elephants, how did they get there?
Evidence has been collected to point a finger at the African Pouched Rat (aka the hero rat). Rodents are the only animals capable of moving such a large seed, and the hero rat is known to cache seeds, like a squirrel, to save for later.
So with no elephants to help move seeds into the grassland, it could be a rat that saves the day and helps the forest expand into new habitat.
The Carapa seedling search team.
Crazy insect I found in the forest, we have nicknamed it a skeleton moth.