May is typically one of the hotter, wetter months in the Congo basin, the rivers and streams are flowing strongly and the blue skies of the ‘small wet season’ have been appreciated. Waking up to the sound of hundreds of African grey parrots has been a real event this month as they gather in huge flocks in the trees just opposite from Lango Camp to utilise the mineral salt lick of Lango Bai. Not to be outdone by the parrots, the green pigeons have also risen to the occasion and put on a spectacular display, flying in their enormous, noisy flocks, bending and stripping tree branches with their collective weight and taking to the air again leaving the tree shaking with relief. May has proven a wonderful month for these two wonders.
The mammal and reptile sightings this month have excited us all. At Ngaga Camp we were recently treated to a completely unexpected gorilla sighting. We set out from camp with the intention of returning to an area where we had heard gorillas the previous day – on the off chance that we could catch a glimpse or pick up on any signs of where their movements. On the way to our destination, we heard a rustling on the path up ahead. It sounded like an animal moving on the pathway but we couldn’t see anything and were very unsure as to what to expect from the kind of noise we could hear. Based purely on the fact that the sound was getting louder and therefore that the noise-maker was coming towards us, we took the opportunity to quickly find some cover and hope that the answer would be revealed. Our plan worked – there he was: A majestic solitary silverback walking on the path towards us! Completely awestruck, we watched as he crossed over into the marantaceae vegetation and then, he began to watch us. He hadn’t moved far but we decided to leave him in peace.
The Jupiter Group has been seen with the youngsters regularly showing off their acrobatic skills, climbing long tree trunks as if it were no effort at all. With fruit being at a seasonal low, this troop has been spending most of its time on the ground in the marantaceae thickets, but some recent rains have sent them up into the trees on several occasions, and on one of these we could clearly observe two of the older females interacting in their overnight nest.
Chimps have also been heard close to camp on various occasions but these agile creatures can be very difficult to catch sight of. At night, Ngaga comes alive with sound, as tree hyraxes begin to wail and the loud squeals of the galagos can be followed as they travel effortlessly from tree to tree.
The Lango saline in front of camp continues to draw in the animals, with buffalo and bushbuck being two of the more common sightings from the deck, but the misty mornings have afforded us a few surprises as well. On one such morning, when the sun was struggling to penetrate the fog, a huge elephant bull took the opportunity to stay out of the forest longer than usual and was casually feeding not even 50 m from the deck. That morning there was very little that could entice us away as he stayed out in the open for about an hour. On occasion, Mother Nature decides to spoil us and this month in camp we have had sightings of the troop of guereza colobus monkeys, a solitary putty-nosed monkey, a blue duiker and a marsh mongoose.
Trips down the Likoli River have also proven brilliant in terms of elephant viewing with three different, although fleeting, sightings in two trips. The forest always keeps a few secrets to herself, but the surprises we have managed to uncover in the forest directly east of camp have us all addicted to walking in this area: Grey-cheeked mangabeys were seen on several occasions, guereza colobus monkeys spotted relaxing in the late afternoon until they were rudely disturbed by an eagle flying over that sent them ducking for cover, a pair of blue duikers foraging for fruit in a small clearing and a sounder of red river hogs so absorbed in feeding they didn’t even notice us – but the highlight certainly has to be a top sighting of the elusive and secretive bongo! The sound of rustling leaves as we entered the forest alerted us to an animal’s presence and we started to view what we thought was a small group of buffalo. But as our eyes adjusted to the forest light, the tell-tale vertical stripes, slight mane, the actual size and thus the true identity of the animal was revealed, much to our fascination and excitement.
Hyaena continue to occupy the area and can often be heard whooping into the night skies. On a recent night drive in the north forest block, we were lucky enough to spot a palm civet; it was only after passing the binoculars around very quickly so that everyone could get a turn to have a look that we realised how relaxed this individual actually was. He gave us all time to really study his spotted coat, ringed tail and curious expression.
For the reptile enthusiasts, we had two terrific sightings this month, one of the shy slender-snouted crocodile sunning himself on the banks of the river, and then one of a Naja annulata, a venomous water cobra more commonly known as the banded water snake.
This month we have noticed lots of juvenile palm-nut vultures visiting the Lango saline with the adults always close by, sometimes fighting over the same small patch of riverfront, entertaining us all. The yellow mantled widowbird has also been adding a dash of colour to the savannah with his bright black and yellow breeding plumage, while the Vieillot’s black weavers have colonised certain palm trees with their deafening noise and amazing displays.
Some of the special birds we have seen this month include: blue malkoha, western oriole, white-bellied bustard, red-headed malimbe, black-headed bee-eater and bare-cheeked trogon. As always, the birdlife of the river systems is really something to behold, with numerous kingfishers, goliath heron, hamerkop, African fish-eagle, palm-nut vulture, squacco heron, green-backed heron, white-throated blue swallows, long-legged pipits, Hartlaub’s duck, great blue turaco and the brilliant flashes of red from guinea turacos, not to mention countless egrets all being seen from the comfort of the kayak.
The ant carpets of the Ngaga forest make for a birder’s paradise with a recent sighting being two white-crested hornbills fighting over the best spot to maximise their ant intake.
Exciting news is that we have a new addition to the Lango Camp family. The guereza colobus troop that usually calls Lango Camp home for a few days every month has increased by one. The little ones are born completely white and this small bundle of joy is proving a handful for his/her mother. When they were last in camp they spent three days in the trees above the staff camp and the kitchen. The youngster’s mother is very protective and would not let any other troop members touch or hold the infant, but this did not keep them from trying. The curious youngster kept popping his head out of mom’s arms and trying to move around a bit, which was the perfect opportunity for other curious members of the troop to try get a turn at playing mom while the rest of the troop lounged lazily in the sun. No-one succeeded in wrestling baby from mom but one brave monkey did manage to lean in and steal a kiss when mom wasn’t looking.