Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Penultimate Uganda Report

We saw Cape Buffalo in almost all of the national parks that we visited but the largest herd was in Murchison. This photo shows only one section of it.
It sure would have been nice to get the entire Piapiac in the photo but my camera is too slow to react to most action shots. Or more likely, I'm too slow to react to movement in time. The few action shots I manage to get are just dumb luck.
Someday I may use this photo for the basis of a painting.
We sat in the car while buffalo surrounded us on all sides. I stayed in the car but wondered if getting out would have provoked either a stampede or a charge? Either way, it would have been the wrong thing for me to do.
Murchison was the only place where we saw giraffes. There were a lot of them.
Younger giraffes, like this one, tend to be lighter in color. Older adults have darker coats.
We only saw one or two Senegal Thick-krees. We saw four species of thick-knee on this trip altogether. I believe that parts of Uganda and Kenya are the only places in the world where it's possible to see four species of thick-knee. They tend to be uncommon most places.
Here is something wierd, a vulture that looks like an eagle, but it's a vegetarian. That's not strictly true. Like many of the vegetarians I know, the Palm-nut Vulture will eat meat if the opportunity arrises. They eat mainly palm fruits and dead fish.
Tom checks out a Dark Chanting Goshawk from the ruins of a once great lodge. It was a large, world class resort built by Idi Amin in a great location in Murchison. During the war with Tanzania, it got sacked by rogue soldiers and has never been rebuilt. It is now the lair of leopards and owls, although we saw niether during our brief visit.
We did see many Orange-headed Agamas there. This is a gravid female.
A flock of Banded Martins, (swallows) roosts in a small tree. I was guilty of paying little attention to swifts and swallows on this trip. There were too many other interesting things to see that distracted me most of the time.
A Common Sandpiper and a Lesser Jacana find interesting tidbits to pick at on this hippo's head. The hippo does not appear to mind.
In the last post I showed a bad photo of an unexpected vagrant that we could not have dreamed of seeing, Short-toed Snake Eagle. We got lucky twice in Murchison when we saw this rarity. Egyptian Plovers are extinct in Egypt and just about everywhere else. The field guide shows them as an unusual visitor to one small spot in Uganda next to the Sudanese border.
We heard from two bird guides in Murchison that a pair had recently been seen next to the ferry dock on the Nile River. Everytime we were nearby, (several times daily) we made a detour to look for them with no luck.
As we were leaving on the last day we made one final swing past the ferry dock and there it was. Only one bird, but it was incredibly cooperative. We could'nt believe our luck.
The Egyptian Plover wears a stiff, black cape on it's back.
What a wonderful way to cap off our visit to the best of the many great locations we explored in Uganda. But wait, I have saved some exciting goodies for my last post about our trip. You will just have to stay tuned for the grand finale.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Raptors N' Stuff

Grey Kestrels are uncommon birds in most parts of their range. They were easily seen in Murchison. They nest in the huge nests that Hammerkops make.
Grasshopper Buzzards winter in Uganda from further north. They are attracted to brushfires like kites, to hunt fleeing insects and other small critters. The birds we saw were also often easily approachable like kites.
Although this is a bad photo, we never expected to see such a rare bird as a Short-toed Snake Eagle. It is considered a vagrant in Uganda, and is virtually absent from the rest of Africa. (Vagrant birds are even less frequently seen than rare birds as a general rule.)
Another new one for me, Red-necked Falcon They like open country with palm trees, which is typical habitat in Murchison.
Dark Chanting Goshawk is another lifer. We also saw a close relative in Murchison, Eastern Chanting Goshawk. Other raptors we saw in Murchison were Lesser-spotted Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Common Buzzard, Bataluer Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Montagu's Harrier, Osprey, Black Kite, Yellow-billed Kite, and African Harrier Hawk. That's a lot of raptors. We also saw plenty of vultures.
Tom brought a video camera and never noticed me take his picture as he shot video of a Yellow-winged Bat. Tom is 76 years old and is in better physical condition than I am. He has been an avid mountain climber all his adult life.
Yellow-winged Bats are large and semi-diurnal. They often roost in light shade, like in bushes.
Besides raptors, Murchison had plenty of shrikes. Grey-backed Fiscal was the most common shrike we saw in Uganda.
I think we only saw one Isabelline Shrike, another lifer. It is a close relative of the Red-backed Shrike, which we also saw in Murchison.
As I wrote in an earlier post, Africa is the epi-center of shrike diversity. An uncommon winter visitor, Woochat Shrike. We only saw this one bird.
It looks a little like a shrike, but is unrelated, Northern Wheatear. They also occur here in Alaska, but they are hard to find.
Another winter visitor from the north, Eurasian Thick-knee. It is also known as a Stone Curlew.
White-faced Whistling Ducks hiding in wet grass. We also saw Fulvous Whistling Ducks.
This Grey-headed Kingfisher was catching insects at night by a  lampost outside the employee's canteen at the park's headquarters.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Entering Murchison Falls NP

The campground at Nile Safari Camp had a primitive outdoor bathroom and shower with tin siding for privacy. While I showered I was accompanied by several Vervet Monkeys that scampered all around the shower stall and tried to make off with the toilet seat. I'm just glad they did'nt make off with my clothes.
Instead of Blue-headed Agamas, the place had equally awesome Orange-headed Agamas. These are the names I gave to both species. I have no idea what their official names are. I just know that they are agamas.
Another new bee-eater, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater. One of seven species of bee-eater we saw on the trip. Five of them lifers for me.
Murchison has really good savannah habitat which is loaded with wildlife. Not more animals than what occurs in forests, just much easier to see. In the photo above, our final guide Taban stands beside our landcruiser.
Shortly before this photograph was taken, these elephants displayed great agitation at our car because we drove up too fast for their comfort. We were afraid they were going to charge us.
I guess they were feeling protective of the little one. Later that night elephants came up to the edge of our lodging and got quite agitated at another driver who was only trying to get to his room. They bellowed and grumbled well into the night.
Another new antelope species, Jackson's Hartebeest.
Their tall foreheads and long snouts are so odd that it's almost majestic.
Yet another new antelope, the dainty, Oribi. This is the female.
The tiny male Oribi. This guy was so comfortable in the road that he would'nt move out of the way.
The Oribi is smaller than an Impala, but bigger than a duiker. About the size of a Bushbuck. We saw lots of duikers and Bushbucks who would not stick around for photographs.
We saw good numbers of Abyssinian Ground Hornbills in Murchison. A sign of a healthy ecosystem. Ground hornbills are scarce in most of Africa.
A prime male. We saw nine species of hornbill in Uganda. Seven of them were new for me.
Another new bird for me on this trip, Whinchat.
Murchison was loaded with raptors. A new one for us was Grasshopper Buzzard. We saw many. More raptors are coming.
Before I forget to mention it. This was the hottest place we visited in Uganda. Midday was nearly unbearable, 100+ f, everyday. Even the nights were stifling. We slept with the door propped open in spite of all the nocturnal beasts roaming around.
After we left the lodge and crossed the river on the ferry, we entered the park proper, where we stayed in the student's centre. No students, tour guides and safari drivers stayed in the spartan rooms. They charged us double what the others paid. Our fee was $9.oo a night.  The lodge next door charged $400.oo a night. Meals at their restaurant started at $30.oo. We ate at the park employees canteen, very inexpensive and good, wholesome food.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Beginning of the End

De Nile, not denial. We camped above the Nile River just outside Murchison NP, at an upscale lodge called Nile Safari Camp. It has luxury tents and a great restaurant that offers sumptuous, four course dinners at affordable prices. It also has a poor man's campsite, (where we stayed) about half a kilometer away from the lodge proper. That is where the photo above was taken.
Right across the river there were all the big animals like these elephants. That is why the lodge provided us with campsite guardians armed with bow and arrows and spears. I asked a guard if he ever had to use them on dangerous animals. He said that he had to shoot some hippos and elephants with his arrows. They just bounced off their hides but deterred them from entering the camp. The guards ignored the many monkeys that freely roamed the area.
We took a couple of boat rides along the river to get close up to the abundant wildlife.
There were some magpie-like birds that attended large mammals called, Piapiacs. The bird above is a sub-adult. Adults have black beaks.
Although I have'nt mentioned them very much, we saw many, many Warthogs all over Uganda. I wonder how they would taste?
Another thing we saw in abundance were Abdim's Storks.
They are only about half the size of Maribou Storks.
Here is a close relative of the American Anhinga, the African Darter. It looks just like the Oriental Darters that Gary and I saw in Cambodia. They are also called snakebirds, for their serpentine neck movements, not for their dietary preferences. There is a weaver's nest on the left of the darter.

A regal, Grey-crowned Crane. Their crowns are not gray, they should be called, Crowned Grey Cranes, to distinguish them from Black-crowned Cranes, which should be called Crowned Black Cranes.
There were some really big crocs. For a great Nile Crocadile story, Check out the latest post on the blog called, Mainly Mongoose, (my favorite blog) I would add a direct link if I knew how.
Some odd birds with a limited range and a specialized habitat, Rock Pratincoles.
The national park was named after these falls. The whole Nile River gets squeezed through a 3.5 meter wide gap. Thrill seekers have contemplated riding down the falls in a barrel. First they sent down test barrels. None of them withstood the extreme pressure. Niether do hippos or crocs that go over the falls.
These are bee-eater nest holes. We were told that they were made by Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, but the local bee-eaters we saw were Red-throated Bee-eaters.
Red-throated Bee-eaters are extra-colorful.
See what I mean?
Happy Easter y'all! It's my favorite holiday even though I can't eat hardly any Easter candy anymore. It signals the beginning of Springtime, Yippee. I saw my first gulls of the season this week. The rest of the migratory birds are soon to follow.