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Zanzibar - Rainforest of the Spice Island

The island of Zanzibar lies a short distance off the coast of Tanzania. Considering the island's long history of intensive agriculture, it is surprising that any wild areas remain, but they do. Despite Jozani forest being the largest intact area of primary forest on the island, it is still relatively small, making it all the more precious as a refuge for many rare species. Iconic among them are the endangered red colobus monkeys, found only on Zanzibar.

Entering Jozani forest after dawn, our first impressions are of distant birdsong, a gentle susurration of tree crickets and a sense of peace. The tangle of trees, vines and dense vegetation affords habitat for numerous species, and as we settle into listening more intently, these become evident.

Green-backed camaropteras (our cover species) patrol the undergrowth and attract our attention by being very vocal, continually giving chapping calls and curious zipping contact sounds. Eastern nicators sing back and forth to each other with rich melodies, while greenbulls burble warmly. Two species of tinkerbird create a soft background of steady piping notes, crowned hornbills appear with piercing calls, and forest weavers, attending to their globular nests suspended in the canopy, give the most unusual combination of crystalline whistles and buzzy tones.

Then the colobus monkeys arrive, doing their rounds of the forest and crashing through the foliage overhead, occasionally giving voice with exhilarating calls and wheezy social interactions. As they move on, we note several different species of sunbird as they too move around the forest, while the rich tones of tropical boubous echo through the forest.

Concluding with a final visit from another colobus troop, this spacious recording will take you to an exotic and biodiverse island rainforest off the coast of equatorial Africa.

"On first arriving at Jozani, we employed a local guide to meet the endemic red colobus monkeys. This took us into a neighbouring plantation area, where the lower tree heights make them easier to observe as they clamber among the foliage feeding on the abundant fruits.

"From there, we explored the Jozani reserve proper. Walking into the forest along the single foot track felt like entering another world from the surrounding busy villages. Dense, dark, tangled, it seemed a little intimidating at first. But the more we sat quietly, observing butterflies, insects, land crabs and a shy elephant shrew, all while hearing the diversity of rainforest birdsong, we could appreciate how rich and precious this pocket of primary rainforest is.

"After a first morning getting the feel of the place, we decided on a second visit to make further recordings, and this soundscape is an edit of material from the two.

"This visit to Zanzibar began our Tanzanian field trip - our first experience of Africa. It felt exotic then, and listening back now, even though I've subsequently identified many of the species we heard, that sense of mystery remains."

We begin with distant birdsong and the soft sussuration of tree crickets chiming in the canopy. Gradually, species become more obvious, including the camaropteras which skulk in the dense undergrowth, calling frequently. Other species audible include:

White-browed Coucal: deep booming (from 15.08)

Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird: sequence of piping notes on one pitch (background from 11.43, moving closer from 15.26) Later it sounds like two birds, each singing on different pitches, prefaced with very barbet-characteristic sliding notes (125.22...)

Little Greenbull: burbling song (from around 18.31)

Mouse-coloured Sunbird: High-pitched, descending trills (27.16 - around 31.00)

Red Colobus Monkeys: Heard throughout the recording, first moving around in the tree canopy (from around 15.20...), then with loud calls (28.49, ) and squealing social interactions (98.11, 130.39).

Eastern Nicator: Bubbly songs, given frequently and often antiphonally - sounding somewhat like bulbuls (eg; 31.59...)

Green-backed Camaroptera: Loud and persistent "chap, chap, chap...", heard frequently throughout the recording (notably close at 35.03...). They also give a curious, quiet buzzy contact call (from 42.31...)

Crowned Hornbill: Loud 'yipping' calls, given both when perched and on the wing (36.50... flying off, 41.21)

Olive Sunbird: Pleasant, soft melodic phrases, usually descending (53.22...)

Forest Weavers: Very unusual buzzy, nasal sounds with pure, whistled tones mixed up into a jumble, rather pleasant (69.17...)

Green Tinkerbird: Similar to the Yellow-rumped, but more continuous piping on a somewhat higher pitch (76.33)

Black-backed Puffback: These birds are common at Jozani, and while I'm pretty sure this is a Puffback (81.34...), they have such a variety of calls that I'm not positive.

Tropical Boubou: Rich, tonal sequence of notes. There is another more localised boubou species of the east African coast, the East Coast Boubou, and whilst I'd expect it to be the one heard on Zanzibar, I'm pretty sure the boubou heard here is actually the Tropical species (87.15, 124.26)

Pale Batis: Another bird with a simple, piping call (110.03...)

Scarlet-chested Sunbird: series of downslurred whistles, you can hear at least two birds interacting (112.05)

Jozani Forest is a cautiously successful conservation story, both in protecting the rare red colobus monkeys, and offering local villages a fair share of tourism income generated. See this article for further information.

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