First week in Africa with ABC!

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Africa » Malawi » Central » Lilongwe
January 12th 2020
Published: January 13th 2020
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My overnight flight out to Nairobi was fairly straighforward, although I was a bit sad it was still dark when we arrived. I then had nearly 8 hours to kill at the airport so I splashed out on entry to the Simba Lounge & nested on a sofa in the corner until it was time to go to my gate. I should have been suspicious that things were going so smoothly. With nerly 3 hours until my flight I glanced at the departures board & say it said “Final call”! Luckily the lady on the lounge desk told me not to worry, the gates wouldn’t even be opening for another 2 hours & my flight was half an hour late anyway. So in good time I headed down to the gate, only to find out from the sign & lady there that my flight was from another gate entirely... Headed over there to see the sign said somewhere else, but on asking at the desk this was the right place. After checking some of the bigger carry-on bags into the hold we got bussed over the plane – first bus got there ok but the next two took ages! We finally
Agama lizardAgama lizardAgama lizard

(I think...)
started taxiing only to backtrack after a couple of minutes as one of the engines was playing up! The engineer came to check it & finally they told us that we’d be transfered to a different plane. After bussing us all around the airport we finally boarded our new plane & made it to Lilongwe three hours late! Luckily getting through immigration & customs was very fast & I found the driver waiting to take me to African Bat Conservation's camp. Everyone was about to head out to a local restaurant but I opted for a sandwich, shower & heading straight to bed!

Tuesday morning was meeting everyone properly & going through the basis of camp protocol, H&S, etc for me & Remi (another new volunteer here) plus a couple of meetings going over the plans for the week and also going throuh what my objectives were here as a volunteer - basically seeing & doing as much as possible! In the evening we headed out for a trapping session but just as we got there a thunder storm started and given that seveal people dies from lightening strikes out here we decided to play it safe & headed back to
Counting fruit batsCounting fruit batsCounting fruit bats

Straw-coloured fruit bat (Eidolon helvum)
camp. Here we started early on the birthday celebrations for Lena (one of the students here). I woke up sometime during the night hearing spotted hyeanas calling somewhere nearby.

Wednesday Dom, Remi & I set off early to count the straw-coloured fruit bats Eidolon helvum at a known roosting site in Lilongwe. We counted approximately 3000 bats in several trees around the site but but it was hard work as it was very hot & the bats were up in the tree tops. It didn’t help that they got disturbed and flew around a few times too! The trees they were using to roost in are also being surveyed (height, girth, canopy width) so we took measurements for the 8 trees that hadn’t yet been done & took photos to ID them back in the office. We also saw a Giant African Land Snail & a cute lizard up a couple of trees. Lots of geckos and striped skinks around camp too.

After lunch I spent a bit of time looking at our tree photos to try to ID them but some of the features were hard to see. The in the evening we three headed out to do an emergency count at a nearby Sundevall’s leaf-nosed bat Hipposideros caffer roost. I took the front exit point, Remi the rear & Dom walking around to look for other exit points. None emereged by Remi but I had around 800 come out by me. I also saw an African fly catcher with a lovely long tail fly over at dusk. As sunset was around 6:20pm we were finished in good time to return for supper and to bed at a reasonably time.

Thursday morning had me & Remi check the state of the 12m mist nets (the others having already been checked over previously). Sadly most of the ones we looked at had large holes which need repairing before the nets can be reliably used - the best net we found was actually a 9m in a 12m bag! Luckily 12m nets aren’t often used so we have time to repair them properly before they’re needed.

After an extended lunch break I returned to the tree ID & with Sophie’s help identified a few as Khaya anthotheca(Sophie had seen these seed pods around at that site which helped immensely). Then we loaded up the cars & headed to the local Hipposideros caffer roost where we counted the day before to catch them as they emerged. We set up two harp traps, 3 mist nets and had a ladder & hand nets all ready to go... then the lightning started and was near enough we had to rush to take down as quickly as possible & return to the safety of camp. We didn’t even unload the vehicles, just rushed inside to hide from the storm which was by now directly overhead.

Friday was my cooking day (it had originaly been Tuesday but I swapped with Patrick) so after Breakfast I cooked up spaghetti bolognese ready for lunchtime then headed out with Dom, Esther and Remi to check the 27 bat boxes in the area around camp. These hadn’t been checked in a while and many of them needed some repair. The checks were made more exciting by the possibility of finding a boomslang in the box! Sadly no snakes were seen, but several geckos were using the box and we saw some lovely butterfies and damselflies on the route too. After lunch I cooked deconstruced cottage pie (quorn bits in sauce plus mashed potatoes!) for supper then went to to see if last nights cancelled trapping was going ahead tonight. Lena was out checking & returned to say it looked very bad weather wise so we had a quiet evening at camp.

Satutrday morning I got up early to wash my clothes before going for a walk near the camp with Dom, Sophie, Lena & Mara at 7am. It was a lovely walk and not too hot at that time. We saw several nice birds and butterflies and some interesting millipedes. I then lent Remi a hand making a start on supper before we all headed into Lilongwe for brunch. I had a delicious hazelnut latte and a squash & feta quesadilla, which I had to take the last quarter of home in a doggy bag! We also tried to get to the bank to exchange some money for me & Remi as we still don’t have any local currency but we didn’t have time to queue before brunch & afterwards the banks were all shut! We were lent 10,000K (around £10) for weekend pocket money but luckily my card worked at both the cafe and the
Me with Rüppell's horseshoe bat Me with Rüppell's horseshoe bat Me with Rüppell's horseshoe bat

Rüppell's horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus fumigatus)
supermarket so I have some snack food and alcohol now too!

When we got back the clouds looked threatening so I took my laundry in & the bits that were almost dry got hung on the headboards & the still damp t-shirts & socks I hung on my travel line under the eaves outside my room! Just in time as not long after the rain started with a few rumbled of thunder. Luckily by the evening it had settled down to light showers so Lena, Angelena, Remi & I headed out to set a couple of harp traps at the Hipposideros caffer as there was a sheltered area we could set up in & just run the traps out of dry enough. This was a good call as as the rain stopped and we managed to catch 17 bats, enough for Lena to get some good data for her student project. 15 Hipposideros caffer (one with huge bat flies!), and just as I was taking the bags off to finish trapping we got a vesper bat (Pipistrelle sp.?) and a Rhinolophus sp!!!

After that excellent session we had a bit
Taking measurements of Hipposideros cafferTaking measurements of Hipposideros cafferTaking measurements of Hipposideros caffer

Sundevall's leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros caffer)
of a lesson on how to take wing punctures from a bat and retired for celebratory drinks & Remi’s excellent Japanese omlette with tomato rice.

Sunday was a day of chilling out at camp and writing this diary before heading out to jazz night in the evening. I did get to see the Vervet monkeys in the camp as well as a large beetle larvae eating a giant snail! Jazz night (well, more acoustic) was good fun – there was good music, cocktails and ice-cream, what more could you want?!

(Thanks to Remi for letting me use some og her photos - especially for getting some good ones of me!)

Additional photos below
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Black-headed heronBlack-headed heron
Black-headed heron

(I think - hard to see markings in this light)
Outside the Conservation Research Africa officeOutside the Conservation Research Africa office
Outside the Conservation Research Africa office

CRA includes ABC & Carnivore Research Malawi

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