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C.A.R. Blog 2: Raptors, Rivers and Rainforest
Munir Virani — in Central Africa Project    Share

Editor's note: The following article is from Rebecca Johnson and Gus Keys, volunteers working to begin The Peregrine Fund's project in the Central African Republic. — Week two in the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve in the Central African Republic and our bird of prey survey for The Peregrine Fund is going well. Although forest-dwelling raptors are notoriously difficult to find, due to the dense habitat they choose to make their home in and their secretive habits, we have been getting some interesting records.

Apart from Palm-nut Vulture and African Harrier Hawk, beautiful birds which we see frequently, the main highlights include two displaying African Cuckoo Hawks, an impressive Black Sparrowhawk gliding over the Sangha River, an African Goshawk spotted hiding in the forest understorey along one of our transects, and great views of a roosting Fraser’s Eagle Owl on the edge of Sangha Lodge.

We’ve been trying out a range of survey techniques to attempt to find raptors in the area. We spend a lot of time slowly walking line transects along tracks and trails through the beautiful rainforest which surrounds Sangha Lodge and Bayanga Village, although occasionally we have to up our pace due to the sound of forest elephants crashing through the foliage nearby! Much more sedate are our river transects, which involve floating along in a wooden pirogue, scanning the forested banks for birds. At times we have to pinch ourselves and remember that this really is work!

Vantage point watches over the river and canopy have given us some good results. One special spot lies a short boat ride up the Sangha River, where we can sit at the top of a beautiful waterfall hidden in the forest, scanning for birds of prey which might break the canopy. It also happens to be a good place for finding a very special species. Not a raptor, but a peculiar looking and much sought after bird – the Grey-necked Picathartes. This species was only discovered to be breeding in Central African Republic a couple of years ago by Sangha Lodge owner Rod Cassidy. They build their nests out of mud which they position on an overhanging rock face, and are notoriously difficult to see outside the breeding season…and unfortunately, so far, they have lived up to their reputation!

We’ve been lucky enough to meet some really interesting people since we arrived. The other day we were kindly given a lift to one of our study sites by the ‘Drive Against Malaria’ team, who are currently working in Bayanga. David and Julia are a English-Dutch couple who have spent many years touring Africa in their Landrover, testing for and treating malaria, handing out mosquito nets, and educating local people on malaria prevention. It was fascinating to chat to them about their work and to learn that they also campaign against deforestation, which is allowing malaria-carrying mosquitoes to migrate to new areas in Africa, causing increased illness and mortality in indigenous populations. The conservation of the Congo Basin rainforest is vital for humans and wildlife alike.

Tomorrow we leave the comfort of Sangha Lodge and head into the Dzangha–Ndoki National Park, around 20km east of Bayanga, to camp out in the forest for ten days. The forest is famous for its habituated Western Lowland Gorillas, Bongos (the largest of the forest antelopes), and Forest Elephants, but little is known about the raptors there. We will be camping near several ‘bais’, natural open areas within the forest, which should be good places to see African Crowned Eagle – a large, powerful raptor which preys on monkeys and small antelopes - one of the most impressive birds in Africa. The forest there should also be home to elusive species such as Long-tailed Hawk and Chestnut-flanked Sparrowhawk. Let’s hope we are fortunate enough to spot them.

Check out ‘Notes From The Field’ in the near future to find out how we get on.

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