Rain – Day 10

Posted on March 18, 2012

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Jaana, nvua ness-sa ming-gee sana (Yesterday the rain was very heavy). I woke up to what sounded like pebbles falling onto the tin roof above my head. I looked at my watch and it read 0305. The wind was howling and as I crawled out from underneath my mossie net and peered through the curtains, I saw hailstones falling onto the wet grass the size of marbles. Even sleepy-eyed I was surprised. I never imagined hail like that to fall in Africa. The rain pelted down for a good hour before it gradually subsiding to a steady shower.

Moses Lemi in the Budongo Forest Reserve

Moses Lemi in the Budongo Forest Reserve

When I stepped outside to meet Moses four hours later, the air was cool and crisp and the forest looked revitalized. I’ve decided to put cutting my own lines on the back-burner for a while, until I can have a proper chat with one of the phenology students. So today we were heading to compartment W21 instead. This is an area of the forest (Waibira) where there are already cut lines for gauging the phenology of plants and trees. It’s a relatively new area that’s been established. Conservationists at the station are also trying to habituate a second group of chimps in the area, which may well be larger than the already known Sonso group. The route to W21 is around 3km.  Along the way we saw lots of trees that had fallen down due to the storm. It’s a regular occurrence at this time of year and when you hear a crack and see your field assistant jump, you jump in the same direction because the chances are, a tree is about to fall right where you’re standing. Welcome to the start of the rainy season!

My mission is to lay 10mX10m plots either side (five on the left/ five on the right) of the transect line 200m apart. We started with Line 3 of W21. I’m laying ten plots per 1km in the hope of seeing Cordia. And by the end of the week I’ll have five, 1km lines, with a total of 50 plots in one compartment. Although not in abundance, there were signs of some logged as well as an existing Cordia, which was promising. Neither I nor Moses have done this type of work before, so it was a bit like the blind leading the blind. All was going well until plot 9. There was a very dense bit of undergrowth, mainly thick vine, interwoven with small thorny branches of several small trees which curved into what looked like a giant nest. Moses had to hack away at it in order to pass through it. Unfortunately for us all the branches were covered in small black biting ants. They rained down on us and we both got covered. Not a pleasant experience and one I’m keen avoid repeating. Apparently they don’t like the smell of paraffin, but alas it’s not something you find in a mini first aid kit. So after a lot of jumping about on the spot, swearing and patting down of clothes we hot footed it out of there fast. I came back to camp filthy from the forest (Mimi na chuffuka Kibirani). Even after showering, my skin still feels like it’s got a life of its own. Ants are my least favourite thing in the forest; I’d rather face a snake or a spider any day of the week (in theory, of course).

Once all the plots have been laid in W21, I’m likely to be hiking between 10-16 km per day to that area. I already feel a bit like Ray Mears tackling whatever nature throws at me, except I’m sure he’d probably have bottled the ants and made paté out of them for his lunch, instead of flapping like a typical city girl.

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