The long dry season sees Odzala-Kokoua National Park typically covered in light cloud most days. This is a result of the rainforest creating its own climate and allows the environment to retain much needed moisture over this period between June and September. Even despite this we experienced some light rain on two evenings this past week resulting in the most incredible cloud formations and cumulus-filled blue skies over the rainforest.
Based here at Lango Camp over the past week I have had a chance to experience a wide range of the immediate area’s biodiversity. A regular troop of Guereza colobus monkeys is seen in the gallery forests around Lango Camp most days and Lango Bai – seen best from the camp’s main deck - attracts forest wildlife including forest elephant (most evenings and very early in the morning), a regular herd of forest buffalo, harnessed bushbuck, red-river hogs and the occasional western sitatunga or even lowland bongo.
Further afield a more adventurous walking route east of Lango Camp takes one through picturesque marsh and riverine forest, mostly walking along amazingly broad and deeply worn elephant paths called ‘boulevards’ or through fringing savannah. Primates one can expect here are putty-nosed monkey, Guereza colobus and the smaller crowned monkey. Walking is one of the best ways to experience and learn more about the forest, but muddy, wet shoes (and even other clothing in the deeper streams) are the order of the day. A small price to pay, but something those visiting Odzala need to know in advance.
To help avoid the mud, the staff here has been hard at work constructing a new walkway from the camp to Lango Bai. Together with a low-level viewing platform, this walkway takes one above the mud all the way through to the crystal-clear Lango Stream and then onwards into some truly beautiful areas and the chance of an encounter of red-river hog, forest monitor or even an elusive giant pangolin.
On one of these walks a short vigil at one flowering liana-like combretum dressed with crimson flowers soon had visiting superb and Reichenbach’s sunbirds. A small flock of tit-hylia were a welcome addition to the list and some of the other birdlife included sooty flycatcher, Fraser’s rufous thrush, Hartlaub’s duck, yellow-lored bristlebill, blackcap illadopsis, Red-eyed Puffback, Chestnut-flanked Sparrowhawk, Black-faced Rufous Warbler and a striking male black-and-white (Vanga) flycatcher. Dusky long-tailed cuckoo was heard on many occasions but a sighting eluded us. The birds moving through in the upper canopy (probably towering around 40-60 metres above you) were tricky to get onto and required patience and loads of perseverance.
A much easier Lango walk takes you along the clear Lango Stream and through into an extension of the main bai where open clay flats reveal ancient pot shards that used to be used for the salt trade. This area hosts another Lango highlight ... enormous flocks of African green pigeons and grey parrots coming down to muddy patches on the bai in search of minerals. Makeshift viewing hides on the edge of the bai afford the opportunity to witness this first hand. The swooshing sound of the pigeons as the immense flock descends or the raucous calls of the parrots as they congregate is a definite Odzala highlight, even for non-birders.
Aside from the walks around Lango, drives through the savannah to and from walks in forest pockets give opportunities for sightings of monkey troops foraging on the forest edge such as putty-nosed monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys and sometimes the much shyer de Brazza’s monkey with its peculiar white beard.
One such drive this past week took us to a forest tract named Ekessi. This quite large forest patch has a distinct marantaceae understory and harbours a western lowland gorilla population. As we walked silently through the forest in search of birds and mammals we were lucky enough to chance upon a resting group of gorillas. The dominant male silverback was probably startled by us and it was quite something to hear him bark and chest-beat at us from about 30 metres. The thick vegetation didn’t allow for a good view and deciding not to disturb the group we left these amazing creatures in peace. What an amazing experience! We also heard moustached monkeys and the walk gives one the opportunity to learn about the forest trees, orchids and fog-horn ferns. Birding highlights included the uncommon blue-headed bee-eater together with many piping and pied hornbills, chestnut-breasted nigrita, chestnut wattle-eye, slender-billed greenbul in the upper canopy and the striking blue-headed crested-flycatcher.
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