Day 186: Mount Cameroon

A beautiful day on the volcano adds 37 new species to the year list.

July 5, 2015: Buea, Cameroon  I awoke this morning mentally prepared to climb a mountain in the rain, but when I peeked outside, the sky was blue! I could see Mount Cameroon in all her majesty, wreathed in mist, looming over the town of Buea.

Mount Cameroon, at 13,200 feet (4,000 meters), is the tallest peak in sub-Saharan west and central Africa and is the most active volcano in the regionits last eruption was in 1999, when a lava flow nearly reached the ocean. Because it rises from near sea level, this mountain ranks highly on lists of the world’s most prominent peaks, and, even better, it’s an area of high endemism. Two species of birds, the Mount Cameroon Francolin and the Cameroon Speirops, live only on this one volcano, and several others occur only here and in neighboring ranges.

The mountain is accessed by a summit trail known as the Guinness Track (for an annual, brutal, televised footrace long sponsored by the beer company, in which elite runners cover 38 kilometers to the top and back). Benji and I set off this morning to look for birds along this trail.

We had the mountain to ourselves. Nobody climbs the volcano in July because it typically rains so much this time of year, and it was a gorgeous morning. On another trip, it would have been fun to hike all the way to the summit, but today Benji and I had other goals to achieve. We spent more than eight hours carefully birding the forest on the mountain’s flanks, racking up an impressive diversity of sightings. Eventually, after lunch, we flushed a pair of the endemic francolin, and, a few minutes later, Benji spotted a family of the speirops. Mission accomplished!

We spent a while admiring the view from just above tree line. A cloud layer obscured the lowlands beneath our feet as if the rest of Africa had been covered in white cotton, and mist clung to the green slopes above us.

I could see no sign of civilizationnothing to indicate the human triumphs and heartbreaks in the crowded cities below. On the mountain, all was peaceful today; the only noise up there came from birds and the breeze.

New birds today: 37

Year list: 3406

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