Sierra Leone – preliminary report
I got back from Sierra Leone a couple days ago. Unfortunately, despite much effort, I did not locate Pygmy Hippo. I came quite close – once seeing very fresh sign, and once hearing the sound of one jumping into the water (the prints indicated that it was never visible from my stakeout). I spent many hours on boat trips at Tiwai Island, and many hours staking out a salt lick at Gola NP in the hopes of seeing a Hippo. At Tiwai, the guide told me that a trip later in the dry season (March or April) would give a much better chance, as more of the riverbank is exposed at that time. The staff of Gola NP concurred, and suggested that the Hippos might come to the salt lick more frequently during the middle of the dry season. Apparently, the rains continued unusually late this year, and only ceased a week before my arrival. That also precluded access to a different salt lick at Gola, which would have afforded a chance at Zebra Duiker.
Apart from that, I did have a fairly successful trip, though I missed some diurnal species. The clear highlight was seeing two (White-bellied) Tree Pangolins on nightwalks. They are wonderful animals, and every bit as strange as I expected. Other mammals included Beecroft’s and Lord Derby’s Anomalures, lekking Hammer Bats (perhaps the most interesting bat in the world), Water Chevrotain, Bay and Maxwell’s Duikers, African Palm Civet, Demidoff’s and Thomas’s Galagos, Potto, and eight species of monkeys.
The avian highlight was the very strange White-necked Picathartes, which I saw at a nesting colony. It’s easily the best bird I saw last year. I didn’t spend much time searching for other diurnal birds, but I did quite well at night. I had great views of the supposedly rare Rufous Fish Owl (with a few more heard), and also saw Fraser’s and Akun Eagle-Owls, White-backed Night-Heron, White-crested Tiger-Heron, and African Finfoot. I found several African Pittas roosting above the trail, another supposedly rare species that is probably quite common.
I’ll write up a trip report when I am done processing my photos, which could take several months. I’m still working on the ones I took in Peru last August. In the meantime, let me know if you’re interested in planning a trip to Sierra Leone this spring and I can send you more details.