Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Uganda final score

The final score from Uganda then, we saw 423 distinct species of bird in just 14 days, of which 277 were lifers! Running total now then is 1,194 life species, or nearly 12% of the current classified bird species.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Uganda - Saturday March 19th - Entebbe Botanical Gardens

So our final day in Uganda, with an 00:40 departure from Entebbe on Sunday morning. We had planned ahead and decided the best bet was probably to visit the Entebbe Botanical Gardens. The weather was poor with rain an almost constant companion as we drove from Masindi to Kampala, though the road is tarmac the whole way so a relatively comfortable if long trip.

Kampala, by the time we got there, was very busy. It took us around an hour to navigate two roundabouts but once through the road to Entebbe wasn't too bad. Dodging rain showers, we decided to explore the gardens, as we had a good six hours or so before sundown.

A Striped Ground Squirrel has the look of a guilty conscience:

Some (by now) familiar birds, like Ruppell's Long-tailed Starling: and Ross's Turaco: Red-throated Cuckoo: Red-chested Sunbird: Mingled with some real surprises, like Golden Weaver: African-Open Billed and Marabou Storks: Lizard Buzzard: Hamerkop: Great Blue Turaco: Golden-backed Weaver: Eastern Grey Plantain-Eater: Crowned Hornbill, displaying: Broad-billed Roller: And a huge surprise, this Black-bellied Seedcracker: Harriet is a very experienced birder and bird guide and when she tells you it's only her second ever sighting of a bird you know it's scarce! Black Kite, distinct from the Yellow-billed Species that tends to dominate in Uganda: African Open-billed Storks:

African Fish Eagle:

Woodland Kingfisher:

Winding Cisticola:

At another spot on the shore of Lake Victoria we spotted and went over to view a flock of White-winged Black Terns:

In our last wander around the gardens we bumped into the local troupe of Vervet Monkeys going about their business:

We headed closer to the airport for tea and coffee and a snack, then, rather than hold on to Harriet and Confidence, we got them to drop us at the airport early so they could head home to their families. We killed time in the airport watching football before finally being allowed to check-in and start the journey home proper.

We really enjoyed our visit to Uganda. The food, apart from some of the packed lunches, ranged from odd, through fine to excellent. The beer is very good and even in Simbaya, still good value. The level of poverty the majority of the population lives in can be a shock.

However, for wildlife and birding it is the richest place we have yet visited, we just hope it stays that way. Confidence is a great driver, very considerate, and a very good birder in his own right, Harriet is a fantastic bird guide, the best we've worked with yet, anywhere, she's also a bit of a celebrity in her own right in Uganda, being the only female bird guide gets her a role as a spokesperson on environmental issues and she is very tuned in to those issues.

I wish we'd had more time to spend in Bwindi and Budongo - in fact I'd recommend a longer trip if you're planning a visit and can make the time, this will mean less time travelling, you'd probably want to end the visit no later than mid-March too to get the best of the weather but GO. There are no security issues at all and for birdlife in particular it is amazing!

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Uganda - morning, Fridayy March 18th - Budongo forest, road-side walk

The plan was to set-off after a more relaxed start to the day. Having loaded the bus and set-off Harriet spotted this Red-shouldered Cuckoo-Shrike:

So we were out and birding while still in the grounds of the lodge. We were in high spirits heading back to Masindi, even though the end of the holiday was getting closer. We had a dahl-fry promised for dinner and were very much looking forward to it.

The main birding event of the trip was another stop in a part of the Budongo forest we'd not been in before. We just parked-up and walked along the road. It's probably the only place you can pick-up Puvel's Illadopsis:

A real forager of a bird, so hard to locate in the forest. We saw lots of bird on the walk, including Olive-bellied Sunbird:

Heuglin's Francolin, this photograph taken from the bus but the light was perfect so a very pleasing picture:

A new insect species, the dung beetle, here with a dung ball, which he's rolling away to impress the ladies: The source of the majority of the dung on the road (and there was quite a lot it, the road being overhung by lots of trees) was the Baboon: A Red-Bellied or Black-headed Paradise Flycatcher: not much of a song but the start of the rainy season is the equivalent trigger for breeding as is Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Another Abyssinian or Northern Ground Hornbill, male (told by the red wattling): It was getting properly hot but we were really enjoying our walk. We were picked-up and headed on to the Masindi Hotel for another early night and early start on Saturday morning, for the trip home.

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Uganda - afternoon, Thursday March 17th - walk around Simbaya River Lodge

George could indeed join us so we headed out down toward the river. One bird that intrigued us was this one:

Harriet thought Long-legged Buzzard, George thought Eurasian Honey Buzzard... still no definitive decision. We did see a large number of Long-legged Buzzards while in this part of Uganda so it's possible it is one. This is a rare event in Uganda as they usually get one or two a year, we think early storms may have grounded a flock on migration.

One bird that called and called but proved hard to locate for a while was this Black Cuckoo:

We enjoyed a long pleasant late afternoon walk, hearing many birds, seeing some, and trekking a short distance in around three hours, before heading back to the lodge for dinner and more of that surprisingly expensive beer.

One aside - I hadn't figured out that Hamerkops were a water dependant/located species until this holiday:

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Uganda - morning, Thursday March 17th - Game drive in Murchison Falls

Another (very) early start ahead of our game drive into Murchison Falls. On the way to the game drive there was a river crossing and to make the 7am ferry we had to set-off good and early. This did lead directly to a sighting of Standard-winged Nightjar, flying around the bus though, which was great, amazing to see them flying with their extended wings above them! We had to get out of the bus for the ferry crossing, providing photography opportunities in the dawn light: We saw loads on the drive so, in no particular order (other than reverse alphabetical), and starting with the mammals, Uganda Cob: Giraffe: Some sort of spotted antelope: Patas's Monkey: Oribi: Hartebeast: More Giraffes: Buffalo: Antelope-type-thingy: African Elephant: More Giraffes, this one a full grown adult, no tree was safe! And now for the birds, reverse alphabetical again, starting with Woodchat Shrike: White-fronted Black Chat: White-crowned Sparrow-Weaver: White-browed Coucal: Swallow-tailed Bee-eater: Sparrow Weaver: Silverbird: Red-winged Grey Warbler: Rattling Cisticola: Piapiacs: Pale Flycatchers: Namaqua Dove: Montagu's Harrier: Lesser Kestrel: Pied/Black-and-White/Jacobin Cuckoo: Hartlaub's Wheatear: Grasshopper Buzzard: Emin's Shrike: Diederik Cuckoo: Crested Francolin: Cattle Egret: Caspian Plover: White-browed Scrub-Robin - I do like this picture: Black-capped Tchagra: Black-billed Wood Dove: And a frankly amazing bird, the Abyssinian (Northern) Ground Hornbill: and a female: At one point I managed to photograph and then record a singing African Moustached Warbler:

We had to fairly race back to the ferry to get across (they run hourly after the initial rush) and got there to find them just finishing. To cut a long story short, us and another group had to bribe them to make the run, even though the other lot had been unable to get across as the ferry was full (they're supposed to keep going until everyone is across). Cynical, but it did mean we got to have lunch at the Red Chillie campsite, which served good tea and coffee. And it had some good birds (including the Red-winged Grey Warblers above), such as a pair of Northern Puffbacks:

And Red-throated Bee-eater, the only one we saw on the trip and fleetingly at that:

We were booked on a three-hour boat trip to the base of the falls for the afternoon, but once it became clear our guide didn't need to come with us, we realised the chances of seeing much were very limited. Executive decision time, we decided to drive back to the lodge and see if we could get a guide (with obligatory gun) for a walk around the grounds that evening instead.

On the way back to the lodge we saw another Saddle-billed Stork:

And another new species, Northern Carmine Bee-eater:

Excellent! So back to the lodge for a shower and to wait and find out if the local guide was free...

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