Blog by MBP Volunteer, Julia
Our path took us along one of the transects the varecia team usually walks, that is to say, straight through the woods and up the mountain. It had been a drizzly kind of week, so the trek uphill was difficult and slick, just muddy enough that the ground felt the slightest bit unstable under our feet. What felt like solid footing could at any second shift and slip sickeningly away, sending you a few feet down the hill with a heart-stopping lurch before your shoe catches against a branch or a stump. Not great conditions for hiking- all of our hands and knees were soon coated with sticky red mud from our various spills- but amazing weather for frogs and other crawly creatures.
The first things we started noticing were the frogs, anyway. They didn’t exactly make it difficult. A bulbous, olive-green monster I could probably only hold with both my cupped hands was sitting with a frowning expression in the very middle of a shallow part of the stream we needed to splash through. We all stopped, crowding around as we noticed it, pawing in our pockets and bags for cameras. It just blinked at us with a baleful look and hopped away, surprisingly agile for such a chubby amphibian, vanishing in an instant and reappearing only in the form of its muddy olive eyes peering from under a log.
Our other amphibian finds were much smaller, but impressive in their variety. We found one that looked like a tiny skunk, with a bumpy slate-gray back the color of the stone it perched on and one rakish white stripe down its spine. I spotted one with a pointed nose and flat head that gave it a leaf like shape, with a red-orangey hue that showed up surprisingly bright in the glare of the headlamps. We heard several of them before we saw them. One species emits a piercing, intermittent BEEP that sounds like nothing more than a bomb counting down to detonation. We joked whenever we heard one, leaping into the shelter of a nearby tree or rock like spies or action heroes- it was a little anticlimactic to learn that the culprit was not a dramatic evil villain frog, but instead a nearly comically tiny and drab little creature, pale brown.
After a little while longer- step, step, sweep tree with light, step, step, admire frog- the pattern was broken by Adam shouting “WOAH.” We, of course, all scrambled to point our lights in the direction he was looking, resulting in a brief night-clubby flashing and waving of beams before we all got coordinated and focused up into the branches.
No lemur, yet, but coiled there in the canopy was the gleaming white underbelly of a sizable snake. It wasn’t difficult to see how Adam spotted it; its smooth scales caught the light with a satiny glow, looking more like a finely polished sculpture made of some rich and precious wood than anything else. It was thoroughly intertwined with the branches, such a convoluted knot that I entertained the notion that it might actually be multiple animals snuggled together. But without too much effort I was able to spot the narrow dangling tail, and follow the curves of the serpentine body all the way to a single blunt-nosed head. The tree snake was a good omen for finding arboreal critters. It wasn’t much longer before the guides finally called out that they had seen something furry!