The grass of the savannah is turning yellow and dying back and the trees in the forest are creaking as they lose their leaves and wave their branches, while the fruiting trees are producing all manner of offerings in all shapes and colours. The animals, and even birds, are moving to areas of permanent water and butterflies are gathering into clouds around small puddles of moisture as the rivers shrink and become shallow. We are in the full swing of the dry season and July finally brought guests to Odzala.
This gave us the opportunity show off the amazing place we are privileged enough to call home. In some uncanny way the animals seemed to sense this and quite of few turned out to make the guests' stay even more special and to emphasise the need for conserving this incredible system.
Lango Camp, Odzala-Kokoua National Park
On our first afternoon walk in Lango stream, a young male sitatunga came walking blatantly towards us on the same path we were following. He had his head down choosing tasty morsels as he ambled along. Once he realised we were watching him he melted into the cover of the riverine forest system.
The human history of the park is intriguing and the pottery shards left behind as a result of salt collection that took place hundreds of years ago gives us only a slight glimpse at how important the area was for the communities that lived here. These pottery shard “hot-spots” are usually accompanied by lemon trees planted by people, now long gone, but their fruits are still much appreciated by us today, especially as a pleasant addition to a sundowner gin and tonic. One day, after gathering our rewards to be used later, we emerged from the lemon grove and at the same time a massive grey shape moved out from the shadows of the forest. We watched the elephant bull slowly feeding, drinking, splashing in the water with a magnificent backdrop of the swamp forest behind him. We then retreated quietly so as to leave him as undisturbed as we had found him.
The comings and goings of animals in Lango Bai continues to enthral and entertain. Recently we spotted two bongo bulls through the dense mist in the morning. We could see something moving and feeding slowly along the edge of the bai in the grey light and once we realised it was a bongo our excitement grew drastically; once we realised there were two of them we could not believe our luck! But as bulls tend to, they need to determine who is boss, and this very quickly ended our sighting as the winner chased the loser off into the bushes.
Ngaga Camp, Ndhezi forest
Ngaga continues to deliver in terms of primates and the current fruiting in the area has made for interesting gorilla tracking. Gorilla tracking is a skill, even more so in the dry season when the groups cover great distances to reach fruiting trees. Up to three groups can be in the same area after the same fruit, which can make things interesting. Guides have to know they are following the tracks of the right group - the group that is tolerant to human presence – and this takes amazing talent and experience.
Lowland gorillas are sensitive, gentle and quiet creatures, each with their own unique personalities. Never was this better illustrated than in a recent sighting of the Jupiter Group.
We left camp early in the morning with the knowledge of where the great apes had nested and spent the previous night, but when we reached this area the tracker soon realised the group was already on the move and we needed to catch up or preferably get ahead and meet them. It was at about this point we began to hear chimps sending their very distinct vocalisation out across through the forest canopy. Focused on the task at hand we cut into the thick marantacea following what only the expert eyes of the tracker could see as signs that gorillas had passed the same way. With secateurs swinging to open a path we moved as quickly as we could, but no gorillas yet. This is where the tracker really showed us his knowledge of both the area and gorilla behaviour as we set off at a quick but quiet pace down the path in anticipation of where the group would emerge and where we would wait for them.
The slightest sounds of movement in the marantaceae gave the gorillas’ position away to trained ears while the chimps continued to socialise in an incredibly loud manner. Suddenly the tracker shrunk in size and began to move slowly, quickly, smoothly; from this we knew something was there - gorillas on the road ahead. The personalities of some of the gorillas allowed them the confidence to sit comfortably and watch us as we all crouched, less comfortably, to get a better look from under the leaves. The chimps continued to fill the silence while the gorillas made no noise at all. On this occasion even the silverback Jupiter was seen for a few minutes and we all forgot the difficult walk and the uncomfortable, very close, positions we were crouched in while we watched one and listened to another of the great apes.
Birding this month was amazing with the identification of an African pitta! Although in Odzala the green-breasted pitta is more likely to be seen, we are lucky to be in an area where the two species occur and could potentially interbreed. Birding in the forest offered several views of the forest wood-hoopoes, red-crowned malimbe, rufous-bellied helmet-shrike, blue-headed wood-dove, Cassin’s hawk-eagle, yellow-mantled weaver, and blue cuckooshrike. Birding in the savannah allowed sightings of dark-chanting goshawk, snowy-crowned robin-chat, black-shouldered kite, compact weaver, long-crested eagle and the first sighting of a black-collared greenbul.
Our new walkway and deck at the Lango stream has proved very popular, especially at the magical sundowner hour when birds begin to fly to their nightly forest roosts, buffalo make the most of the last light to fit in a few extra mouthfuls and monkeys begin to choose the tree that will serve as home for the night.