Saturday, 11 February 2012

Wonderful Uganda - December 2011

A belated blog of my week long trip to Uganda in December.

All started with my Emirates flight to Entebbe via Addis Ababa in Ethiopia which involved an hour on the Tarmac there.  Arrived on time in Entebbe around 3pm in the afternoon,  skys a little grey but no rain.  I was met by my driver Byaruhanga Michael who was employeed by the tour company Venture Uganda which were to be my hosts for the week.  First stop was my accomodation for the night at the Airport Guest House.  I have to be honest I was not expecting much but I was very pleasantly surprised.  Lovely place,  lovely staff, lovely Gardens and my first bird sightings in Uganda !  There was enough time for a quick visit to the Botanical Gardens to get my first shots of the trip,  although the weather was a little dull.   It was also chance to meet my guide for the week Joram Ibosere.  Both Michael and Joram were wonderful hosts and became friends by the end of the week.

It was a Saturday afternoon which meant there were many people enjoying the gardens with music and food but still there were enough birds around to grab my interest !

 Spur-winged Plover (Vanellus spinosus)

 Pale Flycatcher (Bradornis pallidu)

 Red-chested Sunbird (Cinnyris erythrocercu)

 Black-headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala)

Winding Cisticola (Cisticola galactote)

White-chinned Prinia (Schistolais leucopogon )

After a good night's sleep it was time to visit another local patch to Entebbe which was the Uganda Wildlife Education centre (UWEC).  As you might expect there are many animals in captivity here, something I am not comfortable with.  When you see and hear two fabulous Sea Eagles calling out to their surrounding "wild" friends you have to feel a little saddened.  Also captive was the strange looking Shoebill,  a chance to view this bird close-up, before catching up with wild birds later in the week.  However the park does have a lot to offer in the way of wild birds with nice walks through habitat.  This is THE place for Pied Kingfisher, they are everywhere !  
Unfortunately I had to do a bit of rain dodging but still managed a pic or two.

 Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum)

 Lizard Buzzard (Kaupifalco monogrammicus)

 Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)

 Great Blue Turaco (Corythaeola cristata)

 Black-headed Gonolek (Laniarius erythrogaster)

 Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

 Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis)

African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

Day 3 was an early start as we were travelling to Masindi via the Mamamba Wetland,  the most reliable place in Uganda to see the wonderful Shoebill and I was not to be disappointed ,  seeing two birds.  The only way to navigate Mabamba Swamp is by small canoe with chaps willing to get wet and push you through the grass where needed !!  This is also a great place to see Malachite and Pied Kingfisher amongst many other Wetland birds.

Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides )

African Jacana (Actophilornis africanus )

Long-toed Lapwing (Vanellus crassirostris)

Hammerkop (Scopus umbretta)

 Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex)

Malachite Kingfisher (Corythornis cristatus )

After a fabulous morning navigating the swamps it was time to get back on the road and head off to Masindi, quite a long trek but with a number of stops on the way just to stretch the legs.  Roads are not always of good quality and what appear to be short journeys can take a long time.   Finally arrived at New Court View hotel.  Lovely little place, very friendly and cold beers !   Off to bed.

Day 4 would be a trip to Budongo Forest to bird the "Royal Mile" .  The Royal Mile is found in the 793 km2 Budongo Forest Reserve of which only 53% is forest. The remaining 47% is grassland. The reserve lies at the edge of the Albertine Rift  and is attached to Murchison Falls National Park in the south.  Named for its popularity as a traditional leisure stop-over for Uganda's royalty, the Royal Mile is a superb birding spot. We met a very good local guide who was more than familiar with the Forest birds and was able to spot the smallest bird in the densest forest !   A really enjoyable walk up the 'mile', revealing some lovely birds.

 Black and White Colobus (Colobus guereza)

 Chocolate-backed Kingfisher (Halcyon badia)

 African Emerald Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx cupreus)

 African Pygmy Kingfisher (Ispidina picta)

 African Dwarf Kingfisher (Ispidina lecontei)

Long-crested Eagle (Lophaetus occipitalis )

Day 5 and 6 was spent at Murchison Falls National Park.  
The Murchison National park is suited in the northern part of Albertine Rift Valley. A place where the massive Bunyoro escarpment amalgamates into the enormous plains of Acholi land. It’s well known as one of Uganda’s ancient conservation areas.  My accomodation would be at the Red Chilli Rest Camp staying in a Banda.  The camp is currently managed by an English guy and the menu reflects this with typical English food such as Sheperd's Pie !  

This camp was not on the side of the Nile where the reserve is located and therefore a little cheaper than accomodation in the Park, however it is only a short Ferry ride across the river from the Park where you pick up your local park guide and off you go !

My interest is predominantly birds however there are many animals of interest in the park too.  Amazing to see African Bush Elephants resting in the Bush and Giraffes walking the plains.

 Black Kite (Milvus migrans)

 Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus ) - Juvenile

 Yellow-throated Longclaw (Macronyx croceus)

 Abyssinnian Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus abyssinicus)

 Grey-headed Kingfisher (Halcyon leucocephala)

 Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)

 Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)

 Piapiac (Ptilostomus afer)

 African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

 Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus)

 Grey Kestrel (Falco ardosiaceus )

 Buffalo host to two Pipiac (Ptilostomus afer )

Patas Monkey (Erythrocebus patas)

Whilst staying at the camp I was advised to go on a boat trip to the falls as I would get good Photo opportunities whilst crusing.  I was a little reluctant as it is a wide river and geared very much for tourists, anyway reluctantly I decided to give it a go.  It turned out to be the highlight of my week, the boatman was excellent and definitely went out of his way to make this a memorable experience for me and the other 8 passengers on board.  The only disappointment was missing the second opportunity of the week to photograph a Black Crake as it scuttled off before we could get close enough for a picture.  This was not a problem for many other species !   I only wish I had done this the day before too.  If you ever find yourself at Murchison I can highly recommend it.  But beware there are some large boats that just go up and down the river.  You need one of the smaller boats which are more able to access areas by the river side.

 The famous falls at Murchison !

 Water Thick-knee (Burhinus vermiculatus)

 African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

 African Skimmer (Rynchops flavirostris )

 Red-throated Bee-eater (Merops bulocki)

 Red-throated Bee-eater (Merops bulocki)

 Malachite Kingfisher (Corythornis cristatus )

 African Darter (Anhinga rufa )

 African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

 Rock-pratincole (Glareola nuchalis )

 Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)

If you are still with me at the end of this rather long Pictorial Blog I would like to wrap up with Ugandan Birds of the Night !   The feathered kind of course.   Spent one wonderful evening out looking for Nightjars,  managed 4 species and a couple of hours, seeing probably 10-15 birds altogether.   Quite easy to find as they rest on the dirt tracks that criss cross everywhere.

 Standard-winged Nightjar (Macrodipteryx longipennis)

 Standard-winged Nightjar (Macrodipteryx longipennis)

 Slender-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus clarus)

 Plain Nightjar (Caprimulgus inornatus)

All in all, Uganda is a wonderful place with wonderful people and fantastic habitat.  Living in the desert it was a real pleasure to go somewhere where this is an abundance of wildlife.   I will definitely be back at some point.

Thanks for getting this far !