The Diary of a Muzungu’s latest – from the edge of Kibale Forest

EAST OR WEST – EVEN FOR CHARLOTTE HOME IS BEST …

(Posted 02nd October 2020)

In the fifteenth of a series, Charlotte Beauvoisin shares some of her #LockdownDiaries from Kibale Forest in Western Uganda. Scroll down to read the first stories.

Web of connectedness

Much as I loved my five nights in Queen Elizabeth National Park, I was thrilled to be back home at Sunbird Hill. I missed my morning walks along the forest edge.

It amazes me how much I continue to learn as I walk these forest paths. Every day I discover something new about things that I’ve looked at a hundred times.

I’ve been looking at the Ficus mucuso fig tree through binoculars. It’s the highest tree within sight and everyone who visits adores it. I gaze at it for hours from my balcony on the edge of Kibale Forest. Recently I’ve noticed that many of its leaves have turned brown while others were still bright green and full of life. I wondered how that could be? Did the reddish brown colour represent leaves or was I seeing fruit – or something else? I couldn’t make out what I was seeing but I knew the tree had undergone some change in the last few weeks.

When I walked to the forest-edge, underneath the tree, I picked up some dainty-looking skeletons of leaves. I realised these must be the dark leaves that I’ve been seeing from afar. The semi-transparent leaf skeleton was so pretty that I wanted to photograph it. What intrigued me was that each skeleton seemed to have a web on it; within every web were hundreds of little black dots. What was going on?

It is only in the company of site guides Mzee Silver and Nick that I learned what was happening. They explained that the Ficus mucuso is full of caterpillars. It is just one butterfly species according to Mzee but it clearly has a voracious appetite! What I had thought were spider webs were butterfly silk. What were the black dots? They were left behind by the caterpillars. Nick picked up a leaf and showed me how a caterpillar uses the spine of the leaf "as transport;" the caterpillar munches the green of the leaf then uses the spine to slide along to the next edible section.

Thousands of leaf skeletons lay at the base of this most beautiful of trees. It’s incredible to think that just one type of butterfly has wrought so much damage on this magnificent tree. My house is 1 km away and I could see the changed leaves with my naked eye.

The Ficus mucuso is a popular tree for cuckoos. The striking African Emerald Cuckoo likes to perch on the dead branch poking out of the very top of the canopy. We frequently see the Diederik’s Cuckoo and Klaas’s Cuckoo feeding on caterpillars feeding in the tree’s foliage. The Red-chested Cuckoo, Blue Maccoa (formerly Yellowbill) which is also a type of cuckoo and the Black Cuckoo are regular sightings too.

It’s wonderful to feel the connectedness of everything: the Ficus mucuso, the caterpillars and butterflies and the cuckoos. I feel so lucky to have spent so much time here, witnessing the cycle of life, across so many species, through so many seasons.

If you enjoyed this story, look out for the next one in this series, exclusively here on www.ATCNews.org, written by Charlotte Beauvoisin.

The first stories in this series are:

No. 1 Cabbage patch inspiration

No. 2 I had been wondering where the elephants are

No. 3 Locked down and locked in with elephants

No. 4 Exactly how fast can you run?

No. 5 Bingeing on the great outdoors

No. 6 Buzzing about conservation

No. 7 Chimpanzee tea party

No. 8 Counting birds on Lake Saka, Fort Portal

No. 9 Bats in my belfry

No. 10 And finally, an elephant sighting!

No. 11 When Charlotte enjoys watching bushbucks without spending big bucks

No. 12 How low can you go? Birding in Uganda’s Rift Valley, Semliki

No. 13 Conservation in Africa during the Pandemic: podcast interview

No. 14 Not to be missed – Kyambura Gorge!

Charlotte is best known for her blog Diary of a Muzungu. She is a travel writer, influencer, marketing manager and trainer. She lives at Sunbird Hill on the edge of Kibale National Park.

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