Friday 23 April 2010

Lekki Conservation Centre, Lagos, Nigeria

Dire warnings about personal safety in Lagos, Nigeria, caused me to opt for the expensive private taxi option for a visit to Lekki Conservation Centre (Google Earth; 6 26 29N 3 32 08E). LCC is a nature reserve, surrounded by a big wall and protected by a manned security gate at the entrance. Once inside I was able to wander with confidence as my wont might take me.
Lagos is a huge city with a population of 17 million people living in low-rise accommodation. Thus land space is at a premium and it was a pleasure to find somewhere like Lekki that has been preserved despite the pressure.
My red crayon was poised for a bagful of lifers that I had targeted and my hopes were high. The first bird of the day was a Common Peafowl, or Peacock.
I could pick these out easily in the dimness of the early morning, but I was trying to delay my excursion into the palm swamp until the light improved. As it got brighter, I was better able to make out colours and found a good-sized flock of White-throated Bee-eaters in the large trees above the peacock. Still in the open area around the centre’s buildings, Common Bulbuls lived up to their name and a couple of Vieillot’s Weavers were moving in the palms.
The heat and humidity in the forest was oppressive, but I was surprised that I was not being eaten alive by mosquitoes. Whilst I detest too much heat, I will suffer it over biting insects any day.  
Very soon, close to a crocodile viewing platform, I came across the first troupe of the resident Mona Monkeys Cercopithecus mona. They appeared to be inquisitive and shy at the same time if that is possible. This guenon is common across West Africa, but this is my first sighting of them. They are charming and pretty and I am always pleased to find a new mammal that is not a rodent.
A bird hide overlooks a small open area of marsh. 2 African Jacana were calling frantically while 2 White-faced Ducks looked on nervously. I hoped that there might be a big snake upsetting them, but I could not find anything to cause their distress.
A sunbird with a green head flashed across the front of the hide. I checked my Helm field guide and noted that it was a Green-headed Sunbird.
The trail through the palm swamp is shaped like a figure-of-eight with the top loop consisting of wet palm forest and made accessible by a boardwalk. The bottom loop is drier and is accessed by a normal track that gives out on to a small area of savannah before rejoining the boardwalk.
I was approaching the junction where the trail crosses itself when I heard a call and was able to follow it to it’s source. The rising, chuckling call came from a Little Greenbul. It is a dark, drab bird whose only distinguishing feature is that it has no distinguishing features.
I turned left at the crossroads. The boardwalk ended and an overgrown trail continued through the drier part of the forest. I had to walk much of this section bent over and brushing through vegetation that had encroached on to the path. It made me feel very intrepid, but you don’t see much when you are bent over so.
I did find a damselfly and will endeavour to find out what it is as soon as I can. At the moment, I haven’t a clue.
Soon enough, the trail opened out and the birds became more visible. I struggle to keep my enthusiasm up in quiet forests, so I was glad to be out on the savannah where one’s horizons are greatly expanded and birds are more visible. My other two lifers of the day came almost immediately with a pair of Carmelite Sunbirds feeding in the top of one bush and a flock of Swamp Palm Bulbuls in the next one along.
This area was by far the most productive of the day with many more Common Bulbuls, Red-eyed Doves and Vieillot’s Weavers. A Splendid Sunbird flitted between bushes while a Senegal Coucal flushed from the ground and disappeared.
Looking back over the forest, an African Harrier-hawk was displaying in it’s undulating style and another bird of prey flew over, but evaded identification. A picnic area (for extreme picnickers) held me for a while as I tried to “pish” some obstinate birds from the top of a palm tree. I tried a rising, then a falling inflection, I tried to imitate the rhythm and cadence of their calls, and I even tried pishing the theme from “Match of the Day”. They eventually showed themselves and I recognised them as the Swamp Palm Bulbuls again. I turned around to continue on my way to find a centre worker watching me resignedly.
For some, the term “pishing” or “spishing” may be unfamiliar. In the world of bird-watching, we make peculiar squeaks and hisses in an effort to whet a bird’s curiosity. The bird may then approach closer to investigate where the noises are coming from and what they might mean, then the bird-watcher can get a better look at it.
In Nigeria, a similar “tssst” (usually used within restaurants and bars to attract the staff), means “Come here, I want you”. While the Nigerian tradition is to hiss discretely, the sound carries and has an attention grabbing quality. We bird-watchers tend to pish loudly and extravagantly, becoming frantic and causing any passing Nigerian to consider us extremely rude and impatient. I once found myself in embarrassing confusion with the groundsman in the hotel gardens in Abuja, Nigeria. It took some time to explain that I was trying to attract the attention of a bird and not him. He walked off, shaking his head, muttering in a rich, dark voice, “You white-men have not enough to do!”
All too soon I was back in the swamp forest. I came across a wonderful looking tree house/hide, but was disappointed to find that it was out of commission.
More Mona Monkeys played in the palms alongside the boardwalk, but I not seen many birds in the forest today. The light under the trees was very gloomy anyway, so photos would have been unsatisfactory.
I would estimate the boardwalk and trail to run for about one and a half miles altogether, but a visitor could choose to walk just the top loop and return to the centre in easily less than a mile.
Back at the car park, I was able to get a better look at a Black-crowned Crane. I had seen it earlier, but the light was too low at the time. It was approachable enough to make me think that it was used to people.
The centre is not a busy place on a Thursday morning though. I had the forest to myself and the only other visitors were some school children who were kept cooped up in the centres education room. Poor things.

Bird species; 23

Long-tailed Cormorant 1, Western Cattle Egret 10, White-faced Whistling Duck 2, Yellow-billed Kite 4, African Harrier-hawk 1, Black-crowned Crane 1, African Jacana 2, Red-eyed Dove 20, Senegal Coucal 1, White-throated Bee-eater 30, Little Green Bee-eater 2, Allied Hornbill 6, Common Bulbul 30, Little Greenbul 2, Swamp Palm Bulbul 14, African Thrush 2, Collared Sunbird 2, Green-headed Sunbird 2, Carmelite Sunbird 3, Superb Sunbird 1, Pied Crow 2, Black-necked Weaver 2, Vieillot’s Weaver 8.

Mammal species; 1

Mona Monkey 30

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