Birding Without Borders

Day 188: Sacred Birds

A traditional palace conserves good forest habitat.

July 7, 2015: Bamenda, Cameroon — The country of Cameroon is divided into “fondoms,” or kingdoms, each of which was traditionally ruled by a king. There are first-class fondoms, second-class fondoms, and third-class fondoms, and the most important kings lived in strategic palaces within them. The area around Bamenda, in northwest Cameroon, is traditionally called Mankona first-class fondom whose current ruler, Angwafo III, came to power in 1959 and celebrated his 90th birthday last month.

This was explained to me by a helpful man named Ntomnifor Richard Fru, who works with community tourism in Mankon, as we stood with Benji outside the Mankon Palace this morning. Richard handed me a delightful pamphlet he had written to educate visitors. “The beautiful landscape embellished by enticing vegetation makes Mankon a veritable tourist destination,” it read. “It is a seductive destination for ecotourism.”

The three of us walked past the palace and entered the Mankon Sacred Forestour main target today. Many traditional palaces in Cameroon have kept patches of intact forest nearby, Richard explained, to be used as a resource for medicinal plants and as a hunting reserve. (The forest is also a useful hiding place, he added, if the kingdom comes under attack.) Today, the 85-hectare Mankon Sacred Forest is the last remaining patch of forest in an otherwise devastated agricultural landscape, so it’s a hotspot for birds.

Richard has been promoting conservation in the area recently and has even managed to plant trees on adjacent lands to expand the Sacred Forest. Last year, he arranged a bird census to create a checklist of the forest’s bird life; today, as he tagged along with Benji and me, he carried a field guide to keep track of our sightings. He was very happy when we added three more birds to his master list: A Dybowski’s Twinspot, Blue-billed Firefinch, and Violet-backed Starling.

I was happy just to be birding after yesterday’s delays. Benji and I spent several hours in the Sacred Forest this morning before bidding adieu to Richard, and repositioned to a nearby spot called Lake Awing in the afternoon. At each place, I added a few new birds, including a super-endemic Bamenda Apalis at the Sacred Forest, and by the end of the day we’d put in a solid effort. One by one, the count ticks upward!

New birds today: 19

Year list: 3429

An overlook near Lake Awing offers panoramic views on a sunny afternoon. Photo: Noah Strycker

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