On the evening of Wednesday 25th November 2020, I hung my backpack and saw myself off to the bus-stop where I would board a bus for my first-night journey ever to Awka, Anambra state for my first bird atlasing expedition with South-East South-South Atlas Team (SESSAT). Well, people say there's always a first time for everything. On getting there, I met other people waiting for a bus to convey them to the southern part of Nigeria to conduct various businesses. Since I too was going for bird business, I joined them to wait. The big luxurious bus named "Chiboy" finally came after about 2 hours with a loud shout from the driver that he had only 15 seats left. Courtesy of my long hands I was able to drag and pay for a seat ticket and I threw myself into my assigned seat. "Wahala" for who no tall oh .
While the trip proceeded, I closed my eyes and let my imagination run wild. "What is it going to be like?" "Will I enjoy this?" Well, I'll find out when I get there. I arrived at Awka the next day and the city was as incredible as I expected it to be. I forgot to tell you, I spent a part of my childhood there before I relocated in the year 2007 so I was so pleased to be back there again for something so important. I got directions from my camp leader Miss Glory who proved to be a very resourceful leader in every way. I got to my camp and settled in. Mr. Charles, my roommate came in later that evening and he was a great guy too.
My camp had 6 atlasers to be broken into 2 groups. Each group was tasked with atlasing at least 3 pentads each day for 2 days. In my mind, I shouted "These people want to kill me oh" but since no one complained and I was sure to see birds(the loves of my life), I accepted the task and moved out in the morning with my teammates to locate our assigned pentads. Luckily for me, my teammates Mr. Kelechi and Miss Esther knew their way around so we got to work immediately.
All through the time, it wasn't just about me identifying and logging in species I see but also about me trying to take shots of butterflies while expressing my passion to my teammates. My teammates were largely new to the birding world so I had this task of explaining the basics of birding and field ornithology to them and also stressing its importance and significance. That first day was quite adventurous for us as we had to hitch a trailer lift to get to our next pentad. I can tell you that ride was fun. More fun was seeing the face of the locals when you tell them you're watching birds, Lol. After the last pentad, I literally couldn't wait to get back to camp, cool my sore feet, and sleep like a giant baby.
The next day being Saturday, my team headed towards Igbariam to begin our atlasing for the day. Already my teammates could comfortably identify some common species and it made me a lot happier. I would stop at intervals to take shots of butterflies and it always amused my teammates how I would even kneel to take a shot. I would also take pictures of dragonflies too. My plan was to Atlas birds and also “biomap” as much taxa for the virtual museum. After atlasing the sixth and final pentad, we headed back to camp to cool off once again.
Purple-brown Hairsteak (Hypolycaene philippus philippus)
Banded Skimmer (Orthetrum brachiale)
For the said two days, my team atlased 6 pentads around the Awka and Achalla axis and we recorded a total of 73 unique bird species. It saw the growth of my birding life list with new additions like Piping Hornbill, African harrier hawk, White-shouldered Black Tit, Black and White Mannikin, Square-tailed Drongo, to mention but a few. I would have loved to share pictures of the birds but I would share what I have, butterflies and dragonflies. It is also worthy to note that we sighted some Palearctic migrants such as Tree Pipit, European Pied Flycatcher, and Whinchat. My teammates couldn't stop gushing over how so beautiful birds like Blue-breasted Roller, Grey-headed Kingfisher, and African Pygmy Kingfisher were, I guess that's what ornithology does to people; it makes them see the intrinsic beauty of nature.
The bird atlasing expedition was a great way for me to network with great minds as I was able to build good relationships with my team which I'm certain will yield fruitful collaborations in the future. We were also privileged to receive virtual support from the Nigerian Bird Atlas Project team who were on standby to respond to whatever queries that we had. I say big thanks to them and the whole South-East South-South Atlas Team for seeing to the success of the expedition.
My team and I
Report written by Lucky Okpanachi Atabo, edited by Kazeh Nanchin