November 14, 2011

Duke student Brandon Semel continues to share his experience in Madagascar. Due to spotty internet connections the entries were delayed:

Entry 5:

Finding My Feet

10 July 2011

We have now been in Ankarafantsika National Park for several days, hiking daily throughout the dry forests looking for endemic animals and struggling to identify and learn as much as possible about each of the new encounters.  This has all been in preparation for the team of volunteers that we will be guiding in the weeks to come as they help check the fosa trap lines and conduct surveys of the wildlife that thrives in this protected oasis.

The number and diversity of snakes and birds is incredible!  In only a few short days it feels like I am learning more about the wildlife in this remote corner of the world than I know about those in my own backyard.  Beautiful paradise flycatchers are as common as North Carolina’s cardinals, and the males can easily be seen flying through the underbrush with their long, white tail feathers bobbing up and down behind them as they fly.  Rufous vangas sound like woodpeckers striking a dead branch as they rapidly clap their blue beak together until they break out into a cat-like call.  Iridescent greens and blues adorn the sunbirds, while crested drongos rule the roost.

Bright chameleons move in slow motion through the branches, and it’s mindboggling to think about how many of them we must walk past each day without ever seeing them.  One to five foot long snakes can readily be seen moving through the leaf litter or up in the tree branches, and brilliantly colored green day geckos scurry around tree trunks to avoid our gaze.

Trees range in size from the towering mangos and eucalyptus, to the smaller, slower growing native trees whose growth is often further delayed by forest fires.  If we’re lucky, swaying branches alert us to incoming troops of brown lemurs or Coquerel’s sifakas (the same species as Zaboomafoo and those found at the DLC).  But glimpses are often fleeting as the animals are shy, and their soft grunts are often the only evidence of their presence.   After all, both species have been hunted throughout their range in the park, and poaching is a daily reality.

Even in the driest part of the year, when many of the park’s inhabitants are hibernating, the dry deciduous forests of Madagascar’s northwestern realm are rich with life and diversity!