Day 184: Return of the Picathartes

Noah gets deja vu in Cameroon.

July 3, 2015: Campo Ma’an National Park, Cameroon  A man named Benjamin (“Benji”) Jayin Jomi met me yesterday evening at the airport with an official itinerary for nine days of birdingand by official, I mean a carefully stamped, signed, and dated document on thick letterhead! Rain or shine, we are committed to tracking down Cameroon’s birds this week.

I hopped out of bed amped for my first morning in a new country, but soon realized we wouldn’t be doing much birding today. Priority number one, according to our itinerary, was the Red-headed Picathartes (also called the Gray-necked Rockfowl, and a close cousin of the Yellow-headed Picathartes I saw last week in Ghana), and Benji’s stakeout for the bird is a long way from Douala. We spent the day in transit, driven by an able man named Oliver, and arrived at Campo Ma’an National Park, which is on Cameroon’s southern coast, in late afternoon.

At the park Benji quickly recruited two more people for today’s quest: A park guard named Meiville, who went running off to change into full-body camouflage before jumping in the car, and David, a local kid with a sharp machete. Our picathartes posse rolled into the forest an hour or two before dusk.

Today’s search mirrored last week’s experience in nearly every detail. The Red-headed Picathartes, like the Yellow-headed, plasters its mud nest on an overhanging rock wall in the forest and arrives each evening to roost for the night, so we aimed to be in position just before dusk. It was a 15-minute walk from the nearest road; the trail apparently hadn’t been used in months, and David hacked a passage for us. As in Ghana, we arrived at a cave, stood silently in a shadow of one of its walls as daylight faded, and waited for the strange bird to show up.

At exactly 5 o'clock, the Red-headed Picathartes appeared, like deja vu. It perched on a branch next to the cave, cocked its head, moved to a rock, and hopped out of sighttoo quick for even a grab-shot photo, but a great view. We waited a few more minutes, but the forest was quiet and getting dark. None of us had thought to bring a flashlight, and, not wanting to get lost in the night, we crept back out of the jungle. It was a lot of trouble for one bird, but this bird befits the effort: There are only two picathartes in the world, both rare and endemic to West Africa, and I’ve now seen each of them in the same week.

New birds today: 6

Year list: 3362

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