The seasonal change is upon us and with the dry season in full swing, rivers have shrunk to reveal sandy, pebbled beaches while a white film of clouds has been covering the sky most days - only to clear slightly in the late afternoon just in time to allow the blazing ball of red to sink below the green horizon. The mornings have cooled down considerably but the breeze in the middle of the day is still most welcome.
Some incredible sightings, including amazing views of central chimpanzees, have been had at both Odzala camps recently.
Lango Camp continues to show off in terms of diversity of species, with highlights this month including a close encounter with completely wild western lowland gorillas in Ikessi Forest. As we were making our way along the trail we heard something rustle in the marantaceae close by. We stopped to listen and the sound that greeted our ears was a loud bark from a silverback male gorilla. He obviously got as much of a fright as we did. Unfortunately we couldn’t get into a position to be able to see him but he continued to shake plants, chest beat and bark just to let us know he was still there and not all that impressed with our presence. Respectfully, we backed off slowly, feeling in complete awe of having had the privilege to encounter completely wild gorillas.
But not to be overshadowed by the primates, we have also had sightings of both red river hogs and giant forest hogs recently, with one of our red river hog sightings being enjoyed over a cup of morning coffee right from Lango Camp's deck as they fed peacefully in Lango Bai.
Sound is something we rely heavily on in the forest. So often it is a good idea to just stop for a bit and listen to what is going on around us. On one of these occasions, while standing in the forest trying to choose which route to navigate, we suddenly heard quite a lot of noise coming from the direction that we had just walked. A short time earlier we had passed a mud wallow frequently used by elephants and thought maybe this was the source of the action. We crept slowly back not knowing quite what to expect and there rustling in the bushes up front were at least ten red river hogs of all sizes, feeding, grunting, interacting and generally just making a racket. Even with all the noise they were generating their amazing forest-tuned senses detected us and with a few extra loud grunts they melted back into the undergrowth.
The giant forest hog sighting was a real treat: floating silently down the Lekoli River by boat, scanning the newly-revealed muddy banks and sandy bays, we spotted a small group of about five individuals at the water’s edge. When they noticed our presence they silently slunk into the undergrowth, but didn’t move too far and we could still see them as we quietly passed by.
This same boat trip also provided us with an opportunity not often come by - reptile viewing. In one of the trees overhanging the Lekoli River a young African rock python was reclining in the sun; we watched as it moved ever so elegantly in the thin branches.
Elephant sightings continue to be sporadic with most visits being at night as they utilise Lango Bai, but recently, also at Lango, we had the privilege of enjoying an elephant bull in camp for a couple of hours one afternoon. The Lekoli River also continues to attract elephants and three elephant bulls were surprised by us in a pirogue while having their afternoon swim.
At Ngaga, relative abundance of fruiting trees has made gorilla viewing both rewarding and challenging. Gorillas will “follow the fruit” so to speak and can cover large distances trying to get from one fruiting tree to another, which can make it difficult for us to keep or catch up. But then the reward would be to see them climbing trees to get at this much-loved fruit.
On one such recent tracking expedition we had just this type of experience. From the evening nesting site the Jupiter Group had already moved a fair distance and had even crossed paths with another gorilla group. Due to the amazing skill of the tracker (who was quickly able to discern the tracks of Jupiter’s Group from the other group due to the number of sets of tracks), we were quickly on the right track again. This particular morning they didn’t seem to be in the mood for a visit - as we moved after them they kept moving further away and even crossed the path just behind us in their great fruit search. But once again the amazing skill of the tracker was put to the test and he came out tops. Suddenly we found ourselves with marantaceae rustling on both sides of the path and a small clearing where the group had obviously spent quite some time devouring fruit. We crouched down and patiently waited as they made their way closer. Our persistence and patience was very well rewarded with three females crossing the path all with youngsters on their backs. One other female was more curious and climbed up one of the trees close by to make sure she knew what was lurking on the path before crossing and following the rest of the group to their next fruit feast.
Fruiting trees also allow for diversity within the same sightings. For example, the noise of hornbills alert us to the presence of monkeys in the same fruiting trees and even grey parrots join in on the action. One great such sighting was while watching the Jupiter Group. A noise was heard in the trees behind us, and we turned around to see a single putty-nosed monkey making his way towards a tree laden with fruit and gorillas. Their peaceful nature coming through clearly, the gorillas hardly even batted an eyelid as the smaller primate took up place at the top of the tree with the larger primates happily feeding down below.
An incredible sighting that definitely deserves a mention was a daytime view of Lord Derby’s anomalure. These shy creatures, also known as flying squirrels, usually spend their days in tree-trunk cavities only coming out to forage on certain trees at night. They have a specific flight path used every night and will go to great lengths to prune any vegetation that is in the way.
Having had a birding specialist join us this month we have had the real privilege of being able to seeing and identifying some very unique birds indeed. Some of the special sightings included Cassin’s hawk-eagle, bare-cheeked trogon, blue-headed bee-eater, black-headed bee-eater, yellow-mantled weaver, western nicator, yellow-lored bristlebill, superb sunbird, Reichenbauch’s sunbird and the elusive but highly vocal yellow longbill. We also heard the western bronze-naped pigeon and the vermiculated fishing owl, the latter heard calling from Lango Camp.
The black-and-white flycatchers continue to put on a show with their nesting behaviour at Ngaga. We believe they have a nest not far from the deck as they have been very vocal and the female has often been seen taking insects or geckos down to a certain spot. This would also explain their intolerance of other birds in the area, for such small birds they certainly do show a lot of courage, even taking it upon themselves to mob much bigger birds, like pied hornbills, in the area.
The change in season has seen the parrots and pigeons trying to find clay licks that haven’t dried out too much, but this ritual doesn’t come without risks. In the afternoons the pigeons try to come down for another go at the minerals, but they are often followed but a long-tailed hawk. This only adds to the spectacle created as the huge flocks try to land but then sensing the danger suddenly take to the wing with amazing reflexes but sometimes just not quite quick enough and the hawk is rewarded.
Both camps are in full swing preparing for guests' imminent arrival. The recent addition of a new walkway at Lango will allow guests easy access for walks heading out into or returning from the bai. It is also a fantastic place from which to photograph any forest visitors to the bai and to enjoy a sundowner after another adventurous day in the Congo.