In July 2019, some members of the remarkable Arewa Atlas Team AAT embarked on an atlas expedition to Niger State in north-Central Nigeria. Citizen Scientist Joseph Izang Ibrahim recounts his experience as part of this interesting atlas expedition. Joseph is a nature enthusiast with a deep passion for nature conservation. He is currently an M.Sc. student studying Conservation Biology and Ornithology at the A.P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI) in Jos, Nigeria. Prior to this, he interned at APLORI during his Undergraduate programme in the Department of Zoolgy, University of Jos. That was when he "caught the atlasing bug" and remains one of the most dedicated and active volunteers for the Nigeria Bird Atlas Project (NiBAP).
Below, Joseph recounts his experience participating in the July 2019 AAT atlas expedition to Niger state - the state with the largest landmass in Nigeria:
Joseph Izang Ibrahim during the July 2019 AAT July atlas outing in Niger State, Nigeria
MY "OPERATION TURN NIGER STATE YELLOW" EXPERIENCE
I will like to start by saying: "when people with like minds, interests, and passions come together to achieve a goal, the experience becomes unique and unforgettable". It was on this note that a team of highly self-motivated nature lovers, under the umbrella of “Arewa Atlas Team”, embarked on a four days atlas expedition to the largest and undoubtedly, one of the most biodiversity rich states in Nigeria - Niger state. The State is home to the second largest National Park - Kainji Lake National Park and is also home to two of Nigeria's major dams that generate hydroelectric power for the nation, the Kainji, and the Shiroro Dams. The famous Gurara falls, is also situated in the Gurara Local Government of the State. The Nupe, Gbagyi, Kamuku, Kambari, Dukawa, Hausa, and Koro form most numerous indigenous tribes of Niger State.
Side view of the Kainji Dam in Niger state Open savannah woodland in Mokwa, Niger state
For me, the decision to join the team on this expedition was easy, partly because of the history of the State, its rich biodiversity, and the incredible landscape. It is surely one of the destinations that any nature enthusiast will love to travel to. Although the decision to join this expedition was easy, seeking permission to join the team was not so easy, considering that I was planning to embark on the trip while still a member of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) scheme serving in Sokoto State, north-West Nigeria. The procedure for getting such clearance can both be time-consuming and frustrating but somehow, I got the clearance on time, thanks to the good relationship I had with my Local Inspector (LI).
I left my apartment at exactly 6:30 am on the 19th July 2019 to Aliyu Wamakko Park in the heart of Sokoto. On getting to the park, I was told that there wasn't a vehicle that makes direct transit from Sokoto to New Bussa. I momentarily entertained the feeling that I was embarking on a rather tough adventure, but didn't dwell on this thought for so long. And once I boarded the available vehicle, I was immediately intrigued by the passenger who was seated next to me. I won't say more, but I just like to say that I am unmarried!!!
We left “The City of the Caliphate” - Sokoto at around 8:00am, travelling through the Bodinga-Yabo Local Government Area (LGA) road, south of Sokoto city to Shagari and Tambuwal LGs before finally entering Kebbi state. For the first time in my life, I saw the African Spoonbill Platalea alba at Shagari LG when our vehicle made a stop near the famous Shagari dam. From Shagari to Aliero, the closest town in Kebbi State bordering Sokoto was about 70km. We, however, drove for just about 45 minutes from Shagari before we entered the “Land of Equity” and that marked my first time visiting Kebbi state.
The landscape looked much like that of Sokoto and it also had a high temperature as well. Least I forget, the road network from Sokoto to Kebbi was incredible; I cannot remember seeing any porthole. Well, I do not know if it was because there was none or because of the distraction beside me….! We made a short stop at “Jega” one of the famous LGAs in Kebbi State. From Jega to Yelwa (my first stop) was over 3 hours drive. I have seen bad roads, but none has been as bad as this road. We were literally driving in the bush, and the ride was very bumpy. We finally arrived Yelwa at about 2:00 pm and I boarded another bus for another 3 hours drive. The driver assured me that I would get a vehicle from the next destination that connects to New Bussa. On getting there, we were told that the last vehicle for the day had left about half an hour ago and it appeared like I may have to pass the night there. The alternative was to proceed on this journey on a motor bike. They made it sound like my destination was just a stone's throw away. There was a woman with a baby at the park that was also heading my direction, and I was asked to share a motor bike with her for 2500 naira (c. $6.50 USD). I didn't feel comfortable with this suggestion because she had a baby and a lot of luggage. It would be incredibly uncomfortable even for her if all three of us were to share one bike with so much luggage. So, I decided to pay 2000 Naira ($5 USD) to be taken to my destination. At this point, I was worried more about getting to my destination than the money I was spending, probably because I was completely in the middle of nowhere. We took off from Yelwa at 6:30pm.
We rode for over two hours in the bush and all the while I kept asking the bike man, "how much longer" and he kept responding saying "very close". At a point I was tired of seating on the bike, and blood flow to my legs and butt appeared to have stopped as I felt numb. At a point, I became worried and started was thinking to myself, that I could very easily be abducted. Eventually, we arrived New Bussa at around 9:30 pm. Unfortunately, my phone was off at that moment and I had no idea where the other team members were. It was hard to be excited about this adventure at this point. I eventually found a place to charge my phone, and immediately I put a call through to one of the members that I was sure would have arrived, but she did not answer her call. I called two other members, still without much success. I was almost in tears at this point. Just as I was about to look for a lodge to pass the night, a call came through, and it was Sylvia who informed me that they were in Wawa. Wawa is a town located 15km south of New Bussa. I rushed back to the shop where I charged my phone to ask how far my next destination was and I was told about 30 minutes. I was fortunate to get a vehicle almost immediately, thanks to the intervention of some concerned individuals. I reached the Guest Inn at about 11:00 pm because the driver dropped me off before my destination as he hadn't originally planned to go towards my direction. He was just helping out considering that I was obviously in need of help. I therefore had to trek for over 15 minutes to get to the lodge after he dropped me off but kindly provided me with directions.
On seeing the signpost of the lodge, I was so excited, but my joy was cut short by the inscription on the lodge gate: “gate close at 10:00pm, no visitor will be allowed after this time”. Thanks to Sylvia, who was very thoughtful to have informed the security guards that someone was coming and might arrive late and they let me in! You can imagine my relief when I eventually got in and saw Sylvia. Although I was expecting an adventure, my travel experience was proving to be more than I had bargained for…Lol. Sylvia and Boniface were the only ones around at the lodge, and on arriving, it was very easy for me to fall asleep after such a hectic day.
On Thursday 20th July 2019; Boniface, Sylvia and I went out as early as 6:30 am to cover the two pentads around the lodge before the other team members will arrive. We recorded 47 bird species in the first pentad including one lifer - Freckled Nightjar Caprimulgus tristigma. Other unique species recorded were Red-necked Falcon, Rose-ringed Parakeet and Forked tailed Drongo. Our second pentad was away from Wawa where we lodged. Therefore, we boarded a vehicle and headed North of Wawa toward New Bussa. We started the second pentad at 8:37am and by the time we finished, two other team members (Ponyil and Alai) had arrived from Jos. After finishing the pentad, we went to the Kainji Lake National Park office to obtain a permit to survey the park.
On the same day, we met the other team members that were stationed at New Bussa. The team comprised of Mr. Ringim, Haroon, Harry, Ms. Falilat, and Dr. Suleiman who arrived New Bussa earlier that day as well. This team atlased New Bussa-Mokwa axis.
On the second day, I worked with Gideon covering two pentads in the morning and one in the evening. We covered 25 pentads on the second day. We joined Ringim’s team at New Bussa after the evening outing. On the third day, along with my team, we proceeded toward Bida and atlasing along. We covered 15 pentads while Ringim’s team covered six pentads.
On the 24th of June, my team disbanded to our various destinations. Boniface, Sylvia, Gideon headed to Kaduna, Alai, and Ponyil to Jos while I headed back to Sokoto. Going back was a much easier journey and I arrived Sokoto very early.
In total, we atlased 67 pentads and recorded interesting species such as Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Red-chested Cuckoo, Woolly-necked Stork, Black-bellied Bustard, Fanti Saw-wing, Black-faced Firefinch, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Moustached Grass Warbler, White-shouldered Black Tit, Nightingale, Black Cuckoo, Barn Owl, Streaky-headed Seedeater, African Pied Hornbill, Long-crested Eagle, Red-tailed Leaf love, Saville's Bustard, Long-billed Pipit, Brown-rumped Bunting.
Yellow-fronted Canary Bruce's Green Pigeon
Dark Chanting Goshawk African Cuckoo
Melanistic Gabar Goshawk Blue-bellied Roller
Brown-rumped Bunting Swallow-tailed Bee-eater
Photo credits: A. S. Ringim
Bird of the Trip
The bird of the trip was the rare Bateleur, and it was a lifer to most of the atlasers.
The Bateleur is a true bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. It is a Snake Eagle that is spectacularly beautiful, with glossy black feathers, a red face and legs and a black beak. The upper wings are tawny, while the feathering under the wings black and white. This black and white patterning makes it easier to identify. The male has a broad, black band under its wings, with the female having mainly white feather with only a small strip of black. Sadly, the bird is categorized as Near Threatened under the International Union of Conservation of Nature.
Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus at Kainji Lake National Park (Photo Credit: A.S. Ringim)
I am most grateful to the Nigerian Bird Atlas Project (NiBAP) for supporting and funding the trip. I am especially thankful to the management of Kainji Lake National Park, Mr. Philip, and the members of New Bussa Bird Club for joining and providing some logistics. Many thanks to Prof. Ulf Ottosson, Dr. Sam Ivande, Dr. Talatu Tende, A. S. Ringim and Arewa Atlas Team for their constant support and inspirations.
This report was written by Joseph Izang Ibrahim, edited by Sam Ivande