Tanzania Expedition Part 3: Magombera Forest and Mahenge Mountains
Having put up with the cold of the peak at Mwanihana in the Udzungwas, we found respite in the warmer, more humid conditions of Magombera Forest. Magombera is a small remaining fragment of a once larger forest that linked the Udzungwas and the Selous. The interior is still in good shape but the forest composition here is very strange – there is very little mid-storey and hence one gets excellent views into the canopy. This is one of the reasons for the excellent sightings of some rare and endemic monkeys. There are three species in this forest – Iringa Red Colobus, Black and White Colobus and Sykes Monkey. You have got to be pretty unlucky if you do not see all of these on a two hour walk. We even managed to see them in the pouring rain!
The Magombera railway line
With the exception of some of the more common species of butterflies, there was nothing spectacular in terms of insects. The dung baited traps worked relatively well, but compared to the diversity of dung beetles in Udzungwa, it was a little disappointing. From Magombera, our aim was to head to the Kilombero swamps and up to Mahenge. This part of Tanzania is extremely remote and the roads are truly appalling. You do see some extraordinary vehicles stuck in the mud and inevitably a long queue behind and in front of it. We made it down to the ferry crossing across the Kilombero river and realised that it would be nigh on impossible to undertake any work here; the river water was high and there was a very immediate danger of crocodile and hippopotamus. So an executive decision was made to go straight up to the high forests of the Mahenge Mountains. We passed a night in a lay-by on the road that runs through the Mahenge Scarp Forest (no hotels in this part of the world!). The light trap here was rather fruitful.
From here, another long and arduous drive up further into the mountains along what can loosely be described as a road to the village of Sali. I am getting use to finding amazing villages at the end of these long mountain roads but Sali really is astonishing and especially the architecture. It feels like you are in rural Europe; the German missionaries built a number of buildings including the church in the early 1900s and everything has been looked after incredibly well. The church has proper roof tiles (which according to the pastor was sent over from Germany), a bell tower (the bells are rung every morning), and arches over all the windows. Inside, all the furniture has been built using the local hardwoods; there is even a pipe organ! It really is amazing to think that everything is original and despite the rain and the humidity, in incredibly good shape. This village is remote. People were amazed to see that we had made it up here. We were told that the last vehicle which successfully entered the village was in January!
The Church at Sali
The interior of the church at Sali
The forest at Sali, though small, is very good. There are good numbers of enormous mahogany trees still standing which is an excellent sign. The slopes here are (once again) very steep and this has stopped the logging of these trees. I have been told that one of these great trees would cost upward of 5,000,000 Tanzanian Shillings (£2000), which is quite a considerable sum. The walk in is beautiful with many waterfalls along the river. There is one big one I would like to name. I wonder if I am allowed to name it... The locals have however decided to name base camp after yours truly – I expect all future researchers to reference the camp by this name in their work!
The mahogany tree
There were fewer mosquitoes up here but they have been replaced by ants. Lots of them. For the duration of our time at camp, we had army ants. Along our transects, ants. Everywhere. They are a serious irritation. All our camp kit was closed and zipped up; all important goods (chocolate) suspended high up off the ground! The snails and slugs were pretty bad too. There have been some big ones – the size of your hand! If you put something down on the floor for more than 10 minutes, there would be either a slug or snail or both stuck to it. Absolutely vile... Flicking slugs off my tent has now become a morning routine.
There have been very few crosses in the personal injuries column up until now but here at Mahenge, a big cross has been inked in – I managed to stab myself with the oxalic acid syringe. Twice. On the same night. The weather has also been behaving. A more reasonable cycle of relatively warm and dry daytimes followed by heavy downpours throughout the night. None of this raining 20 hours a day that I had in Udzungwa!
Apart from the wonderful views and excellent forests that the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania have to offer, there is one more gem to be found here – the tiny pygmy chameleons. I have seen them at all the different mountains I have visited but the one found here is a particularly beautiful species. It is also one of the “larger” pygmy chameleons!
Pygmy chameleon of the genus Rhampholeon; star of the blog thus far! (BG)
On the beetle front, the dung baited traps have worked exceptionally well and there were many species which I have not seen in any of the other mountains. Carabids have been most numerous in these forests, found scuttling on the forest floor whilst walking around at night with a torch. Some interesting beetles have been appearing at the light sheet but again it has been quiet and the potential of the Mercury Vapour lamp has not been fully realised. I am hoping for better in the future. Unfortunately the bulb we had used up until now is no more - we awoke on the final morning to find it completely smashed. The cause? We have no idea.
And to the 'dullest' photo of the blog thus far! Mysterious broken lightbulb; was it a bat, was it a giant moth; perhaps we shall never know...!(BG)
Up next – the Uluguru Mountains.