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Three go mad in Uganda June 09

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Old Wednesday 22nd July 2009, 16:47   #1
birdboybowley
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Three go mad in Uganda June 09

Hey all, just getting around to writing up this trip report so bear me.....

Along with my two good friends, Ewan Urquhart and Chris Glanfield, we decided upon an intense birding trip to nail some of the specialties Uganda has to offer and to also partake in its gorilla-trekking opportunities. Roughly the same size as the UK, Uganda has a vast species list and a great diversity of habitats ensuring that any trip here will always yield dividends. After trawling through numerous trip reports, Ewan reckoned on utilizing Bird Uganda Safaris (www.birduganda.com) and after some very good negotiating and perseverance on his part with the owner, Herbert Byaruhanga, we had a 16-day itinerary booked for a cost of £1900 each which covered all logistics, food and the US$500 gorilla fee (higher than we would’ve liked but remember the £-$ rate wasn’t particularly great this summer and all prices in Uganda are based on the US$). The basic itinerary would take in the country’s best sites including Murchison, Semliki, Bwindi, Lake Mburo, Budongo and Kibale and give us a good selection of birds and animals. We ended up with a group total of 492 birds and 40 mammals with a couple of bats and rodents remaining unidentified.
The flights were booked through British Airways for £598 each - steep I know, but BA are still the only carrier that flies direct to Entebbe and the other fares available were only £50 or so cheaper so just weren’t worth the extra hassle of a transfer. The flight times were 7h45 outbound and 8h15 inbound and the B767 we were on thankfully had a personal IFE system with a wide choice of films and music available to pass the time more quickly and the crew was friendly and chatty on both sectors (is it just me or are flight crews now younger than the cabin crew??!!). Also, Uganda is only GMT+2hr so no jet-lag to worry about either!
Daybreak was around 0600 and sunset was about 1830. The weather was generally fine and sunny with the hottest temperatures being in the north around Murchison. A few heavy showers were encountered in the western ranges where the night-time temperature dropped to a comfortably cool level too. Anti-malarials were taken as standard and pleasingly, bugs weren’t much of a problem either, except in the ‘tsetse zone’ – a c10km area through South Murchison where the things are seriously voracious! Had a couple of mozzies in various rooms but nothing a shoe didn’t sort out....! Ants could be a painful distraction if you happened to step on a swarm – most people looked at me a bit funny when I went into the forests in ¾ length shorts but I found that the ants were a lot easier to see and get rid of, whereas long trousers or jeans gave them far too much cover to get up to some more sensitive areas for my liking (just ask Chris...!!)
We used the Birds of East Africa by Stevenson & Fanshawe as our primary reference and Herbert also had a copy and many other guides for mammals, reptiles and butterflies in the van, a Toyota Hiace that could seat 7, so the 3 of us were very comfortable. A large safari-roof opened up and allowed the 3 of us ample space to stand for better views. Mobile reception was generally pretty good, there are a number of cash-points (including a Barclay’s at the airport) and changing money in banks was simple enough (although time-consuming!). The exchange rate was roughly US$1=2000 Uganda Shillings, with beers and soft drinks costing from 1500-2500 depending on location – so pretty damn good!!

Day-by-day Itinerary:

10th June – We landed at 0725 and soon had out first lifers in the shape of African Pied Wag and nesting Angola Swallows as we queued for immigration. We soon met up with Paul, our guide for the first few days, as we cleared customs and accompanying him was Cissie who will soon be in charge of the office and designing tours to cater for clients’ needs – for this reason she apparently had to know where she was talking about so here she was! As we walked to the van in the carpark, a couple of smart Grey-backed Fiscals and Ruppell’s Glossy-Starlings were seen, along with Speckled Pigeons and Dark-capped Bulbuls whilst White-rumped and African Palm-Swifts wheeled overhead. A quick roadside stop literally just outside the airport gave us a large flock of Fan-tailed Widowbirds and Village Weavers, several Pin-tailed Whydahs, Mosque Swallow, Pied Crow, Hadada Ibises, Pied Kingfisher, Red-eyed Dove, a single Grey Woodpecker and a few Broad-billed Rollers. Paul asked if we’d like to dump our gear or go straight to the Botanical Gardens to bird.....silly question and c20mins later we were parking up by the gates.
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The gardens themselves are situated on the shore of Lake Victoria and offer a great introduction to the commoner species to be expected, have some excellent habitat and are a great place to lose yourself in for a few hours. As we gathered our bits and pieces, new birds began to show in the form of a stunning Double-toothed Barbet, a pair of Black-&-White-Casqued Hornbills, several soaring African Openbills and old acquaintances such as Palmnut Vulture, African Green-Pigeon, Hamerkop, Gymnogene, African Thrush, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Bronze Munia, Red-billed Firefinch and Klaas’ Cuckoo made a welcome return as we set off along the path to spend a great 4hrs birding. We soon had a wealth of weavers – Slender-billed, Vieillot’s Black, Holub’s Golden, Golden-backed, Grosbeak, Black-necked and Black-headed all present in the surrounding vegetation – and sunbirds such as Red-chested, Scarlet-chested, Collared, Olive-bellied, Superb, Western Olive and Green-headed were also added, whilst other goodies included our first awesome Great Blue Turaco, a female Vanga Fly, Superb Glossy-Starling, Eastern Grey Plantain-eaters and African Black-headed Oriole. The ground was covered in thousands of small dragonflies that took off en masse as we walked through them.
Overhead, a pair of vocal African Fish-Eagles was ever-present and huge Marabous drifted over also. A brisk wind whipped in across the vast Lake Victoria, upon which we saw Pink-backed Pelicans, Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Black-headed Heron, Long-toed Lapwing, Cattle and Little Egrets and Long-tailed and White-breasted Cormorants. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Pied Kingfishers together either – there must’ve been at least 80! Further round, near the ‘restaurant’ we found a very active area of forest with several Diederik Cuckoos, 4 gorgeous Ross’ Turacos, 2 Crowned Hornbills, Heuglin’s and Snowy-crowned Robin-Chats, Red-bellied Paradise-Fly, Green Crombec, Dusky-blue Fly, Little Greenbul, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Tambourine Dove, Black & White Munias and a female Black Cuckooshrike. A couple of African Pygmy-Kingfishers were seen perched deep in smaller bushes and the numerous noisy Woodland Kingfishers were impossible to miss – two very vocal birds that we did miss seeing were Grey-capped Warbler and White-spotted Flufftail. On the mammalian front we had a group of gorgeous Guereza Colobus, Vervet Monkeys and several Red-legged Sun-Squirrels.
By 1300, we were back at the van and moving on to our first accommodation, the nearby Sophie’s Motel where several Northern Brown-throated Weavers and Speckled Mousebirds welcomed us upon our arrival.
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The motel was ok, rooms had private facilities and 24hr electricity and there is internet access down by reception also. Food and drinks are available in the upstairs restaurant, the food being alright but nothing special, although the tilapi was very nice (and I don’t usually eat fish!). After dumping our gear, we had our first ding-dong with Paul as he was about to leave us be and see us in the morning....er, don’t think so! So we had an hour’s break and then went back to the gardens again by 1530 and went in by another entrance.
As we parked up a stunning Black-headed Gonolek was seen in the tree above us and as we walked along we soon had Northern Black-Fly, Wahlberg’s Eagle, African Pied Hornbill, Tawny-flanked and White-chinned Prinias, Red-faced Cisticola, and several Yellow-throated Tinkerbirds. Along the lakeside we had excellent close views of Hadada Ibis and a perched African Openbill and 5 Blue-breasted Bee-eaters fed from the bushes. Chris and I then struck lucky with a fine Orange Weaver as it flew from the lower bushes into a tall tree but the mood changed rapidly as we wandered back through the centre of the gardens where we came across a truly distressing sight – earlier we had watched quite a few of the numerous Yellow-billed Kites dipping down to snatch things from the lake’s surface and now we were looking up at two, 1 now very dead, caught and snagged and hanging upside down by what looked like fishing line in the topmost branches of probably the biggest trees around. Quite powerless to do anything about it, this was the first time I think I’d’ve liked a gun to hand....On a more positive note, we had 5 Meyer’s Parrots and a pair of African Grey Parrots inspecting a nest-hole – it was excellent to experience these all-too-familiar cagebirds as they should be seen, wild and free, and a fitting end to our first day.

11th June – God, what a night! The noise from the motel’s car park below our window was like sleeping in a truck stop....0300 and I’m sure there was someone revving a tank up down there and obviously having to shout to his hard-of-hearing friends...not impressed!! The Hadada Ibises that roost in the trees surrounding the carpark also make one hell of a racket as they leave!! We had breakfast and were on the road by 0710.
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After a couple of roadside stops en route with excellent views of a cracking male Vanga Fly perched atop a bare tree and display-flying and also mobbing a Crowned Hornbill that dared land in the next tree, a superb white-morph African Paradise-Fly, African Grey Parrot, White-headed Saw-wings, Little Bee-eater, Sooty Chat, African Dusky and African Blue-Flys and smart Lesser Striped Swallows seen, we reached Mabamba Swamp by 0900, and were soon ensconced in two canoes and paddling down the channels through the papyrus stands for the next couple of hours. Some good birds were seen including 4 African Marsh Harrier, Black Crake, African Jacana, Malachite Kingfisher, Common Waxbill, 2 Blue-headed Coucal and some nice flocks of smart-looking Weyn’s Weavers.
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Soon we were floating out amongst the huge water-lilies and trying to balance whilst standing up in the boat when our main quarry was sighted in the distance as a large grey lump moved and yawned, its huge bill glistening in the morning sun – a magnificent Shoebill! We manoeuvred the boats closer and soon the cameras were clicking away as we watched this prehistoric-looking bird, all of us agreeing that it wouldn’t look out of place in Jurassic Park and anyone who doubts dinosaurs eventually became birds should just come here and look at these things! Another suddenly flew in looking for all the world like an avian B-52 and landed even closer to us and yet another was seen flying further out which brought our total to three, which considering that there are only 9 birds at the site, was pretty damn good! Absolutely fabulous birds and one I’d wanted to see for years!
A shout from behind had us whipping round in time to get a great bonus in the form of a Rufous-bellied Heron as it flew by and landed in a distant bush – excellent! As we left we turned down one last tributary and soon were watching a delicate Lesser Jacana run across the lilies into cover. We docked and left along the dusty roads and stopped at an area of the reserve that borders the road where Paul got out his i-pod (with its temperamental speakers which didn’t impress) and soon we had great views of the local Papyrus Gonolek but the White-winged Swamp-Warbler unfortunately didn’t want to play. We meandered our way back through the capital Kampala and finally got onto the main road north to Masindi. The road itself is in pretty good condition, the going only hampered by the fascination with multiple vicious speed-bumps around the numerous villages and of course the number one rule of African driving: the biggest vehicle has right of way no matter which side of the road it’s on!!
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We stopped at a good swampy/grassy habitat near the border of the Nakasongola/Luwero Districts where we had a superb female Saddle-billed Stork, Marsh Tchagra, Compact and Little Weavers, Black-headed Batis, Common Wattle-eye, Yellow-fronted and Brimstone Canaries, Striped Kingfisher, African Firefinch, Swahili Sunbird (split from Marico), Scarce Swift, Yellow-shouldered Widowbird, Winding Cisticola, Bateleur, Dark Chanting-Gos, Lizard Buzzard, several Long-crested and a light-phase Booted Eagle and Little Swifts. Later (after an unscheduled pit-stop for Ewan’s emergency dump!) we stopped in some promising drier habitat where we had a brilliant pair of White-crested Turacos, African Moustached Warbler, Western Black-headed Orioles, White-shouldered Black-Tit, African Grey Hornbill, Fork-tailed Drongo, Greater and Lesser Blue-eared Glossy-Starlings, Senegal Coucal and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleus. Here we also heard Scaly Francolin, Red-necked Spurfowl, Black Cuckoo and Red-headed Lovebird. A bonus Swamp Nightjar flew across the road as dusk fell as we neared Masindi. We reached the New Court View Hotel by 1945 and had a lovely meal with refreshingly cold Clubs. The place is owned by an English woman and is pretty good – the bungalow we were in had private facilities and a fan although we came unstuck with the shower as the red tap was actually the cold one.....oops, oh well, nothing like a cold shower to liven you up!

To be continued.....
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Old Thursday 23rd July 2009, 16:32   #2
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What a fantastic trip! Uganda sounds incredible and is high on my list of places to bird. Although reading trip reports like this could in the long run be detrimental to my marriage, I am looking forward the continuation.
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Old Thursday 23rd July 2009, 16:49   #3
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Ads, can't wait for the next installment.
I wanna go. Now.
Great stuff.
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Old Thursday 23rd July 2009, 18:21   #4
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Went to Uganda as a boy in the early 60's (my Dad drove us there from Nairobi). I've always remembered it as a particularly beautiful place absolutely alive with butterflies. Sadly it was long before I got keen on birding, so no list to speak of (Hammerkop I do remember!) We got as far as Murchison Falls by boat and I've only recently seen some of the cine film Dad took of this holiday. It's another one of those places I'd love to go back to, so thanks for this taster!!

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Old Friday 24th July 2009, 02:00   #5
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Thanks guys! Here's part 2:

12th June – Up at 0550 after a night filled with demonic cat noises, had a quick bite to eat (no shortage of food on this trip...!) and we were on the way up to Budongo Forest, stopping en route to pick up a local guide Vincent (not sure why, but he was a nice enough chap). We birded a couple of sites in agricultural areas and saw a nice singing Cabanis’ Bunting, White-browed Coucal, Black Bishop, Yellow-mantled and Red-collared Widowbirds (the subspp here doesn’t actually have a red collar...!), Tropical Boubou, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Singing Cisticola and a couple of fine Black-shouldered Kites. We also heard another Black Cuckoo that resolutely refused to show itself.
We reached Budongo Forest by 0900 and spent the next 5hrs wandering the excellent Royal Mile. Butterflies of all sizes abounded and had Chris running round like a madman! Birds came thick and fast too and we had some excellent species here including 2 beautiful Chocolate-backed Kingfishers, Narina Trogon, White-thighed Hornbill, Yellow-spotted and Streaky-throated Barbets, Red-chested, Levaillant’s and Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoos, Fraser’s Forest-Fly, African Dwarf-Kingfisher, Dusky Tit, Ashy and Chestnut-capped Flys, Buff-throated Apalis, Green Hylia, Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, White-breasted Negrofinch, Fire-crested Alethe, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Yellow-throated, Yellow-rumped and Speckled Tinkerbirds and a good selection of oh-so-exciting greenbuls – Little Grey, Slender-billed, White-throated, Cameroon Sombre, Spotted, Yellow-whiskered and Honeyguide (to be fair, the last 3 species were actually quite nice!) We ate our packed lunch down near the small bridge at the end of the track and had a couple of Sabine’s Spinetails, a calling White-spotted Flufftail and a gorgeous Blue-throated Roller posing in a bare tree for us. On the walk back up to the van we also had a fine African Crowned Eagle soaring overhead, calling.
We then drove the 15mins to Busingiro, another site in the forest where we walked back down the main road and soon found our target bird – Ituri Batis! Excellent bird, we watched it feeding actively high in the canopy. Also in the same tree, a small feeding flock held Yellow Longbill, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Red-headed Malimbe, Black-throated Apalis and another huge surprise in the tiny shape of a Tit-Hylia! We also had Sooty Fly, Brown-eared Wood, Green, Little Green and Blue-throated Brown Sunbirds, African Shrike-Flycatcher and a Cassin’s Spinetail. We made one final stop at a lovely pond in nearby Kanyege where we had an African Fish-Eagle, 3 Purple-headed Starlings and some excellent close views of both spinetails and Little and White-rumped Swifts as they swept down to the surface to drink. Mammals today included Alexander’s and Red-legged Sun-Squirrels, Guereza Colobus, Red-tailed, Blue and Tantalus Monkeys, Olive Baboon and also we had a couple of gorgeous multicoloured Blue-headed Tree-Agamas.
We headed back to Masindi for another nice meal, well-deserved beers and an early night – although this time we managed a hot shower...!

13th June – Hmmmm, unlucky for some. It started ok with a surprise Mottled Swift and a Hooded Vulture over the hotel. We packed up all our stuff as we were moving on today and for some reason didn’t even leave Masindi until 0740 before finally heading towards the Kaniyo Pabidi section of Budongo Forest, only stopping en route as we saw a superb Great Sparrowhawk fly into a roadside tree. We also stopped at the main gates for a good half hour, again, no idea why, so we didn’t actually get into the correct part of the forest until bloody 0940....which certainly put pay to us seeing the star bird – Puvel’s Illadopsis. We heard it but, as all the trip reports state, early morning is best....so we spent the next 4hrs wandering the very quiet forest trails not impressed at all. Why we didn’t leave earlier and get to the forest by 0730 is beyond me – I thought maybe the bird wasn’t as particular as it was made out to be and being local they knew better.....wrong!! Bird of the morning was a very nice Eastern Forest Robin that posed well on a fallen tree. Other new birds were Xavier’s and Icterine Greenbuls, a very gaudy (and noisy!) African Emerald Cuckoo, Grey Longbill, Grey-headed Negrofinch and Red-tailed Bristlebill. Another circling Crowned Eagle and 2 calling Chocolate-backed Kingfishers were also noteworthy. A young Green Mamba slithered across the trail at our feet and Guereza Colobus, Olive Baboon and an African Giant-Squirrel were the only mammals seen. So, a bit of a piss-poor performance from our guide today.
We left the forest behind us and headed northwards towards Murchison for the rest of the day, stopping a few times if anything interesting was seen. Once we reached South Murchison proper we slid back the full-length sunroof and stood through it, giving a better panoramic view. That is until the dreaded tsetse flies attacked – nasty little bastards, they sneak up on you, land without you noticing and then “F***!!!” they bite you big-time, through clothes, deet, hats, it matters not! As I stated before, they only seem to be in one patch along the main road but they soon forced a tactical retreat into the van and closure of the roof! This still didn’t stop them trying to get in as apparently they are programmed to follow anything big that moves! As the habitat became drier and more open the species changed accordingly, with new birds such as Scaly and Crested Francolin, Nubian Woodpecker, Pale Fly, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Black-crowned Waxbill, Black-bellied Firefinch, Common Fiscal, Helmeted Guineafowl, Rufous-naped Lark, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler and Blue-naped Mousebird all seen. Other goodies such as Bateleur, Grey Kestrel, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Black-winged and Northern Red Bishops, African Cuckoo, Copper Sunbird, Wattled Lapwing, Northern Puffback, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Cardinal Woodpecker and Red-throated Bee-eater were seen also.
We reached the popular and thereby busy Red Chili Rest Camp by 1700 and just had to have a cold Tusker before we dropped our stuff into our bungalow, ‘Tigerfish’, complete with its own family of Warthogs outside. The bungalow had two rooms and a separate bathroom and a small communal area as well as an inviting porch. The temperature here was the hottest we encountered on the trip and note the camp only has electric until midnight which means no more fans in the room! A male Beautiful Sunbird, great close views of the nesting Black-headed Weavers and several gorgeous adult and young Amethyst Starlings were seen in the immediate area. We went back out again and stopped just down the road from the camp to look for Bar-bellied Firefinch, which failed to show, but we did see a dapper Spotted Morning-Thrush, Black-headed Gonolek, Common Wattle-eye, Siffling Cisticola and a pair of Chinspot Batis. We then drove back the way we’d come in battling with the damned flies again and spending a lot of time splatting the ones that were inside the van – one blood-bloated individual left such a huge line of blood on the window it looked like I’d tried to slash my wrists!! Remember that you have to squish the head else they’ll keep coming...!
We stopped as the sun began to set and then drove slowly black towards the camp. Before long a stunning, amazing, fantastic male Pennant-winged Nightjar was seen flying across the road ahead of us, its huge white wing-flashes and ridiculously long wing-streamers looking even better in the flesh. Another was soon seen and at least one Swamp Nightjar was spotted sitting ahead of us, its eyeshine obvious in the spotlights we had and a Greyish Eagle-Owl that flew low across the road too. Another pair of eyes ahead turned out to belong to a fine African Civet that gave good views, with the only other mammal seen being a Ugandan Grass-Hare. Back at the camp we had a good meal and another couple of beers to soften this morning’s disappointment.
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Old Friday 24th July 2009, 13:51   #6
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14th June – After a sticky night’s sleep and listening to what sounded like a rave going on til 0300 (had electricity for that apparently!) and a huge cockroach that just wouldn’t flush (!) we were up and down to the ferry by 0640, crossing the Nile by 0700. Loads of Hippos lolled around near to the shore and a flock of 100+ Fulvous Whistling-Ducks and a Spur-winged Goose flew down the river. Upon reaching the north shore we opened up the roof and set off on a 4hr game drive to sample the delights that Murchison NP had to offer. We weren’t disappointed either, the rolling savannah providing the epitome of African landscapes. Lots of good birds seen including lovely Grey Crowned-Cranes, Black-bellied Bustard, Blue Quail, Heuglin’s and Crested Francolins, Klaas’ and Diederik Cuckoos, Flappet Larks on their raspberry-blowing display flights, smart Silverbirds, Croaking, Zitting and Rattling Cisticolas, Broad-tailed Grassbird, Speckle-fronted and Vitelline Masked-Weavers, Shelley’s Rufous Sparrow, White-winged Widowbird, Banded Martin, Black-billed and Spot-flanked Barbets, Red-faced and Northern Crombecs, Swallow-tailed and Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver and raptors seen were Martial, Tawny and Long-crested Eagles, numerous Bateleurs, Grey Kestrel and Ruppell’s, Lappet-faced and Palmnut Vultures. Annoyingly, there was no sign of any Abyssinian Ground-Hornbills or Denham’s Bustards.
More impressive still were the animals on show – herds of Ugandan Kob, dinky Oribis everywhere, menacing African Buffalos, African Elephants, stately Rothschild’s Giraffes, Jackson’s Hartebeests, Bushbuck, Defassa Waterbuck, Dohor Reedbuck, Warthogs everywhere, Patas Monkey, a Golden Jackal and best of all, 3 brilliant Lions. Two young males sat in the shade next to the road allowing some excellent close views whilst another older male was watched as he crossed the horizon and then made his way down to the road, crossing just in front of us on his way down to a waterhole – much to the indignation of the wallowing Buffalos! Back at the ferry we made sure the doors and windows were shut in the van as the local Olive Baboons are very adept car thieves but they seemed quite happy rummaging through the bins....
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We headed back up to the camp for lunch then back down to catch a boat to the falls themselves. As there were only 5 of us on the boat we crossed to the other side to get into a smaller boat and set off upriver. Lots of birdlife and animals along the riverbank, including 2 Comb Duck, African Darters, 2 Goliath Herons, Yellow-billed and a male Saddle-billed Stork, Senegal Stone-Curlews, White-backed Vultures overhead, loads of Pied Kingfishers, African Fish-Eagle, Egyptian Geese and our only Greenshank of the trip. Hippos were plentiful in the water with a few Nile Crocs hauled out on the mudbanks. A few tsetse flies gave us a bit of bother for a while but thankfully soon disappeared. The falls themselves were pretty impressive as were the 4 beautiful Rock Pratincoles on the rocks before them. We picked up 3 more people and then set off back to the launch.
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Checking through trip reports (stupidly after today...!) we read that the previous year clients with Herbert had gotten the boat up to the falls as we did but then they got out, went up to the top and had the Bat Hawk and were then picked up and driven back as dusk fell getting a good selection of nightjars....why we didn’t do this I don’t know and when we brought it up with Herbert later in the trip he, as usual, had a bullshit answer for us concerning time, petrol and money, all of which was negligible....oh well, that’ll teach me to read more!!
We got back to the camp just after 1700, packed up our gear and found a sizeable greyish bat on the outside of the bungalow that had distinct white inner wings but could find nothing to match it in the fieldguide. (Edit - now id'd as a Light-winged Lesser House-Bat by Chowchilla and Halftwo - cheers guys!) We then began the long drive back to Masindi which surprisingly only took just under 3hrs as we didn’t really stop for anything. Later, whilst having dinner, Herbert finally made his appearance and we bade goodbye to Paul as it was all change for tomorrow.

15th June – What a day....we left Masindi at 0630 and headed off towards the western border. We had a couple of stops on the way, one for a calling White-spotted Flufftail that refused to show again, and another for a gorgeous pair of African Stonechats.
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A couple of Lilac-breasted Rollers and Village Indigobird were seen alongside the road and our lunch stop gave us a showy pair of African Shrike-Flys, Yellow-throated Leaflove and another female Vanga Fly. At 1230 we pulled into a garage in Mubundo where bizarrely Herbert had to get the van serviced....why couldn’t it’ve been done yesterday perhaps?? Who knows?! Again, not impressed, but we managed a couple of lifers in the scrub behind the garage – stunning Bronze Sunbird and Stuhlmann’s (split from Baglafecht) Weaver. Other birds around the immediate area included an African Dusky-Fly, lots of Marabous, Vitelline, Vieillot’s Black and Black-headed Weavers.
We left by 1415, picking up our chef Moses (as our accommodation tonight has no kitchen staff) and drove up and over the Rwenzori Mountains where we could see the tapering Semliki River in the distance separating Uganda from the Congo. The road became steadily worse but finally, at 1700, we pulled into the HQ in Semliki and birded the road for a bit which was quite quiet, with only a Piping Hornbill of note. So, tired and weary, we drove off towards Bundibugyo (another hour away) on a road that was pretty bad in places. We also stopped near an area of reeds and grasses where we had Fawn-breasted, Common, Black-crowned and Orange-cheeked Waxbills all coming to roost. A very heavy downpour followed us to the Vanilla Hotel where we each had a room – result! The hotel is pretty basic but comfortable enough. The rooms have electric until 2300-ish and private facilities. Moses did an amazing job of cooking up a meal with the supplies he’d brought along – in fact probably the best meals of the trip so far! We met a couple of Dutch birders who’s birded the forest today and said how quiet it’d been so hopefully the continuing rain would have more of an impact for tomorrow.

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Old Friday 24th July 2009, 14:16   #7
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Super stuff, a most enjoyable country - couldn't get to Semliki when I was there, outbreak of Ebola put paid to that. Otherwise, good memories you're bringing back.
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Old Friday 24th July 2009, 14:29   #8
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Roll on the next installment, great reading.


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Old Friday 24th July 2009, 15:09   #9
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Excellent report. Been to Kenya and Tanzania before but not Uganda. You have made my mind up but might try and avoid the road with the tsetse.
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Old Friday 24th July 2009, 15:14   #10
Jos Stratford
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... might try and avoid the road with the tsetse.
It is impossible, it is the main road into Murchinson Falls. Fortunately, the tsetse seem to concentrate in an area a few kilometres north of the camp and river, it would be much worse it they occurred there too!
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Old Sunday 26th July 2009, 21:05   #11
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Thanks for the comments guys!

16th June – We rose early after a refreshingly good night’s sleep – it’s surprising how much you miss your own company when continually sharing a room. We drove back towards the forest for about 25mins and had to slide sideways up a particularly degraded and rutted part of the muddy road. In fact, the Dutch birders who were just ahead of us and whose driver had made a right balls-up of driving up it, cheekily got their cameras out as we began our ascent in case we toppled over – which we didn’t of course with Herbert thankfully making a much better job of it! Soon after we parked up opposite the start of the Karumia Trail and with packed lunches aboard and all watered-up we were ready to bird by 0725. We had to have an armed guard with us today due to the proximity of the border and stayed in the forest until rain forced us out at 1615. Semliki is home to a wide variety of species that are found nowhere else in East Africa so a visit here was a must for us. Unfortunately, a longer visit would have been better and maybe camping in the forest itself as this would be the best way of seeing Nkulengu Rail. Luckily the rain really had improved the birding since yesterday and we saw loads of good stuff today. As we wandered down the start of the trail a group of Crested Guineafowl were watched on the path ahead and then a whooshing of wings above signalled the arrival of one of the birds I’d come here for – Black-casqued Wattled-Hornbill! A male and 2 females sat in the treetops above us before lumbering off again. Another pair was seen later flying over the canopy and giving better views. The description in the fieldguide starts with the classic line “...A stonking forest hornbill...” – brilliant and how very apt! Scaly-breasted Illadopsis called from either side but refused to show themselves but we did manage views of Brown Illadopsis further down. Other good birds seen included Grey-throated Tit-Fly, Yellow-throated, Yellow-rumped and 2 Red-rumped Tinkerbirds, Yellowbill, Red-tailed, Cabanis’ and Toro Olive Greenbuls, Western Nicator, Olive-green and Yellow-browed Camaropteras, Black-winged Oriole, Pale-fronted, White-breasted, Grey-headed and Chestnut-breasted Negrofinches, a male Blue-headed Crested-Fly, Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat, Great Blue Turaco, Eastern Forest Robin, Green Hylia, Green Crombec, Piping and African Pied Hornbills, Yellow-billed Barbet, Grey-headed, Variable and Blue-headed Sunbirds, Red-tailed Ant-Thrush, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Gray’s and Crested Malimbes, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Chestnut-capped Fly, Grant’s Bluebill, Rufous Fly-Thrushes, Fraser’s Forest-Fly, Maxwell’s Black- and Yellow-mantled Weavers, Yellow-eyed Bristlebill, Red-chested and very noisy Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoos and Fire-crested Alethe. Crossing the first river we called in a group of excellent Red-billed Dwarf-Hornbills whilst a calling White-crested Hornbill refused to come any closer, but some recompense was as a single Black Dwarf-Hornbill was seen. At the swamp we finally got great views of a White-spotted Flufftail as it furtively fed in the tangle of waterlogged tree roots. Wandering back we had a calling Jameson’s Wattle-eye that didn’t show but a beautiful Rufous-sided Broadbill did – what a brilliant bird!!
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Other heard-onlys were 2 Yellow-throated Nicators, Black-headed Coucal, 2 Yellow-throated Cuckoos (all of which only occur here) and Black-billed Turaco.
Mammals seen in the forest included 2 de Brazza’s and 10 Red-tailed Monkeys, 5 Central African Red Colobus, 4 Boehm’s and an African Giant-Squirrel. As we headed back towards the van, the heavens truly opened and within minutes we were soaked to the skin and the path had become a river, with us all slipping and sliding back along it – my trainers aren’t the grippiest obviously!! We finally got back into the van absolutely sodden (at least my trousers got a wash!!) and made our way back to Bundibugyo, slipping and sliding our back down the stretch of muddy road and had another wonderful meal out on the upstairs veranda of the Vanilla. Scanning the small reedy area opposite us produced an imm Black Crake, Black Bishop, Black-crowned Waxbills, Copper Sunbird and Winding Cisticola whilst a single Plain Martin continually buzzed the hotel with the Angola Swallows.

17th June – After another good night’s kip we were up early and after packing our stuff into the van and forcing some food down (too much food – only eat once a day back home!) we set off towards the Sempaya section of the forest. Things were going well until we reached ‘that’ section of the road again – complete bedlam! Two big lorries and a full bus were blocking the bottom end of the road, the bus driver refusing to move over and let the smaller vehicles behind through. A fully-laden van had become stuck in the huge ruts on the downward slope and was being manhandled by about 100 locals who, once they succeeded in getting it out, danced around jubilantly! A big 4x4 got bored of waiting and powered over the grass verge and disappeared up the road. A smaller estate car tried it, bottomed out over the grass verge, was pushed over this then broke down going up the hill.....Another big lorry came down the hill sideways but managed to hold it. Arguing broke out with the bus driver who tried to move the bus forward but got it bogged in a rut and then a tree smashed one of the side windows so peopled piled off it and the shouting began again! 1½ hours later the bus went for it and to give him his due he got straight up and away. Our turn came next (Ewan and Chris wimped out and walked up to the top!) and we made it with no problems and eventually reached our destination, albeit later than planned!
We needn’t of bothered as the trail to the ‘female’ Hot Springs was deadly quiet, with White-tailed Ant-Thrush, Eastern Forest Robin and Fire-crested Alethe the only highlights, although a pair of Spur-winged Lapwings had seemingly staked an unlikely territory right next to the sulphurous bubbling geysers. Such a nice smell.....! So, a disappointing end to our Semliki leg of the tour – thank god for yesterday, should’ve gone back down the Karumia trail methinks! We set off back up over the mountain range, stopping for lunch on the way back down where we had a couple of White-browed Bush-Robins, Black-cheeked Waxbill, Flappet Lark, Tambourine Dove, Bateleur, Northern Puffback, Amethyst Starling and heard some White-headed Barbets that promptly disappeared, never to be seen or heard again. We reached Fort Portal where we jumped out and bought a couple of bits and then set off towards Kibale, via an unsigned detour as the main road was close due to an accident. We finally pulled up along the main Kampala road and waited for the downpour to pass and then birded for a couple of hours along it as there was good forest either side. Some good birds were seen here including a group of 5 groovy Grey-throated Barbets with their sticky-up bristles that landed in a bare tree and posed nicely, an Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, a pair of Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Many-coloured Bushshrike, 4 very yellow Joyful Greenbuls, Willcock’s Honeyguide, White-headed Woodhoopoe, Western Citril, Lowland Masked Apalis, Brown-capped Weaver, Red-headed Malimbe, Grey-throated Tit-Fly, Ashy Fly, a very nice African Emerald Cuckoo, Splendid Glossy- and Purple-headed Starlings, Green-headed and Blue-throated Brown Sunbirds and Great Blue Turaco.
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We made our way up into the mountains through swathes of tea plantations towards our accommodation which was the very nice and atmospheric Chimpanzee Forest Guesthouse, itself an old plantation house. A large colony of Vieillot’s Black-Weavers nests in the garden as well as Lesser Striped Swallows. The chalets we had were very nice with one absolutely massive bed and a smaller double inside, private facilities and a large veranda overlooking the mist-enshrouded wooded hillsides opposite where we saw several Afep Pigeons in the treetops. The staff was very friendly although not the most efficient (!), food was served in the main house and was pretty nice (when not cold!) and there was a bookcase (padlocked unfortunately) chock full of dusty old tomes from 19th century African explorers which I would’ve loved to’ve been able to leaf through. There are quite a few Labrador/retrievers around too which were all very friendly and full of beans...and quite noisy at night!! Also a headtorch was useful here as it’s pretty dark when trying to get back to your room.
After settling in we had a quick look round the grounds with African Thrush, Bronze Sunbird, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Black-crowned Waxbill and Common Fiscal seen and soon after we drove about 10mins into Kibale Forest proper and birded from the road near the bridge, adding a fly-by Shining-blue Kingfisher and Cassin’s Fly on the rocks but not a lot else. We drove back and stopped a site that gave a good vantage point over the valley hoping for White-naped Pigeon, which didn’t show, although a very nice Velvet-mantled Drongo and Yellow-mantled Weaver perched up and posed for the ‘scope and we surprised a couple of Bushbucks here too. We had a nice dinner later that evening and met up with the Dutch birders again which was good - they seemed to always be 1 day ahead of us!
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Old Monday 27th July 2009, 07:58   #12
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This is a fascinating report: an interesting mix of typically East and West African birds, but with many unique local species thrown in for good measure.

It's a long time since I've been to Africa, and this report brings back many great memories even though I've never been to Uganda. Yet another place to consider for the future methinks...
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Old Monday 27th July 2009, 08:28   #13
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This is a fascinating report. Yet another place to consider for the future methinks...

Indeed. And indeed.
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Old Monday 27th July 2009, 13:19   #14
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It is impossible, it is the main road into Murchinson Falls. Fortunately, the tsetse seem to concentrate in an area a few kilometres north of the camp and river, it would be much worse it they occurred there too!
Bugger!
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Old Monday 27th July 2009, 13:26   #15
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18th June – We were up very early this morning and on the road by 0600 to pick up a guide, Ronald from a nearby village. A very jolly chap indeed and great company, he directed us down a small lane where we had a silhouetted Brown-backed Bush-Robin singing away, and we then followed him into the forest just as the sky was lightening. We walked literally through the trees for about 20mins and came to a stop and then the wait began....Birdsong increased in volume and diversity as we stood under the trees, a Chimp screamed in the distance, then Chris got his bollock-bite from the marauding ants and gave us all a laugh until suddenly Ronald signalled he’d just heard what we were waiting for. He set off in the general direction with us in hot pursuit, trying to miss ant swarms, vines and spiky things, the bird called again – a most unusual sound that I think I’d’ve had trouble saying was even a bird! – and then Ronald suddenly stopped and pointed to a horizontal branch about 20ft up and there it was, perched with its back to us – a simply stunning Green-breasted Pitta!! WOW! What a phenomenal bird! It looked round at us, showing off all its gaudy colours, called again and then suddenly took flight, its’ white wing patches vivid in the gloom as it disappeared low! We could see its head for a bit and then it was gone! Hearts pounding like pistons, relief washed over us we began the congratulations until we realised that Ewan hadn’t seen it at all...!! Aaarrgh! Disaster! The bird called once more and then was silent. Ewan was totally dejected (I know how that feels mate....) so we set off through the trees once more to its’ last known location and stood around for nearly 45mins until it called again. Ewan and Ronald went off on their own towards it to keep the noise down and thankfully he came back about 25mins later with a big grin on his face....phew, how close??!! That was the third straight day the pitta had been in the same area and our thanks to the Dutch guys for mentioning it last night and to Herbert for managing to get hold of Ronald as I don’t think anyone else would’ve had a clue where to look. Excellent!
We then wandered back towards a trail (Chris attracting more ants up his legs!) and found a few noteworthy birds: Crested Guineafowl, heard a pesky Red-chested Owlet that just wouldn’t come in closer, Willcock’s Honeyguide, Green-throated Sunbird, Western Nicator, Honeyguide, Cameroon Sombre and White-throated Greenbuls, 2 Chestnut Wattle-eyes and Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat. Then came the contentious chimp-trekking debate: we’d originally said that we weren’t really that bothered by doing this and would rather bird. It subsequently transpired that Herbert had already paid for it (only $75 each I think) so it was down to us to choose whether we did it or not. This fact, combined with Herbert’s lack of communication skills and distant, arrogant mannerisms had put us a bit on edge with him, which is never a good place to be in where your guide is concerned.....so we had a bit of ding-dong about it in the forest with poor old Ronald trying his best to find anything on the ground interesting! To cut a long story shorter, we decided not to do it, then Ewan decided to, then I changed my mind (so fickle..!) and Chris came along grudgingly, the thinking being that we’re here and might never get the chance again, we’ve already paid for it and it wasn’t like the birds were falling out of the trees in here.
So for the next 2hrs we walked through the trees to wherever the chimps were calling from, cutting through vines and trudging through the swampy bits, basically carving our own trail. We even saw a pair of Green Twinspots on the forest floor which was a damn good bonus and found another Narina Trogon too. We could hear the evocative yowling screeches getting ever louder as we approached and then suddenly there was a mother and baby Chimpanzee sitting feeding on a log in a swampy area! Fantastic! They sauntered off on the ground and then climbed up into the surrounding palms, giving excellent views as mum pulled fruits and ate them whilst baby frolicked around her, climbing and swinging about but never going too far away. It was quite something to watch the gentle interaction between them and to look into her eyes and see the intelligence there as she looked back down at us. Others were calling all around and we found a very noisy and distressed female in another tree – Ronald thought perhaps she’d had a run in with the resident male and he’d given her a slap!! She probably deserved it.....!! In retrospect, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and would’ve really regretted not doing this, so we picked up our dummies, put our toys back in our prams and followed Ronald out of the forest to the van.
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We had lunch at the HQ and then drove to a lodge in nearby Bigodi where we walked a pretty birdless track (well it was the afternoon!), the highlight being another calling Jameson’s Wattle-eye that thankfully put in a super-brief appearance. We then went back to the HQ as then rain began and hung around there again for ages, seeing a few bits, especially as the rain subsided and a huge load of insects (termites?) took to the air from the ground – a pair of Vanga Flys, Sabine’s Spinetail, Yellow-rumped and Speckled Tinkerbirds, African Paradise-Fly, White-breasted Negrofinch, Green Crombec, African Emerald Cuckoo, Red-tailed Bristlebill, Yellow-billed and Streaky-throated Barbets and Western Black-headed Oriole. We headed back towards the guesthouse by 1730, stopping along the road and at the bridge in between showers. We had 2 Black-billed, Ross’ and Great Blue Turacos, 2 Mountain Wags, Cassin’s Fly, Toro Olive Greenbul, Buff-spotted and Yellow-crowned Woods, Grey-throated Tit-Fly and Purple-headed Starling. We made one last stop the same as yesterday in the hope for the pigeons but they didn’t show again, though we did have 2 Afep Pigeons and 5 African Grey Parrots flying over. The rain settled in for the night and we retired for a better meal than yesterday and a few beers. Back in our room, as Chris took off his shoes he found a soldier ant, still alive and still there, trying to eat through his sock – even though he’d punched the hell out of his foot earlier!! Mammals today, other than the cool chimps, were Grey-cheeked Mangebays, Guereza and Ugandan Red Colobus, Red-tailed Monkeys, Olive Baboons, African Giant-and Red-legged Sun-Squirrels and Bushbuck.

19th June – Up a bit later this morning which was welcome and we had a few words with Herbert as a group to discuss certain things. He seemed quite receptive to our comments and I must admit he got a lot better from today onwards – little things like joining us for evening dinner, telling us what birds he was playing on the i-pod....but it needed to be said I think but there’s always a fine line to walk when criticizing your guide as if you’re too full-on they could just easily turn round and think “..well f**k them, won’t bother showing them anything...” We drove back towards Bigodi, seeing at least 4 White-tailed Ant-thrushes on the road along with the 2 Mountain Wags that were always there.
We reached the swamp by 0750 and began to wander the circular trail that passes through papyrus, open woods and farmland. The morning was much better than we thought and we had some great birds including White-winged Swamp-Warbler, Papyrus Gonolek, a gorgeous Black-faced Rufous-Warbler, Bocage’s Bushshrike, Lead-coloured Tit-Fly, Ayre’s Hawk-Eagle, Senegal Lapwing, Spectacled Weaver, Narrow-tailed Starling, 2 gorgeous male Red-headed Bluebills (one attending a nest in a bush in the carpark), Great Blue, Ross’ and Black-billed Turacos, Brown-eared Wood, White-spotted Flufftail calling, Dark-capped Yellow-Warbler, very showy Snowy-crowned Robin-Chats, 4 African Blue-Flys, 2 Alpine Swifts, Bronze, Superb, Collared, Western Olive, Olive-bellied and Green-headed Sunbirds, Brown-backed Bush-Robin, Speckled Tinkerbird, Streaky-throated Barbet, Joyful, Little Grey, Cameroon Sombre and Toro Olive Greenbuls, Vanga Fly, Grey-headed Negrofinch, B&W Munias, Holub’s Golden and Black-necked Weavers and Brown-crowned Tchagra. The trail exits onto the main road and as we walked back up to the van we had a beautiful perched Shining-blue Kingfisher and finally 2 very attractive Grey-capped Warblers. As we reached the carpark a Speckle-fronted Wood called from a tall tree opposite but must’ve flown straight out of it which was a shame.
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We drove back to the lodge we visited yesterday and had a huge meal of spaghetti bolognese and then disappointingly spent the next 2½ hrs here doing nothing as “...it just too hot for birding...” This was another bone of contention that I had with Herbert – we wasted several afternoons doing sweet FA like this – not what I’d paid for....the trail was as dead as yesterday.
We drove back through Kibale seeing 6 beautiful l’Hoest’s Monkeys cross the road (I missed a Chimp also crossing in the distance) and we again stopped near bridge with the expected Cassin’s Flys beneath it, and had Yellow-spotted Barbet and 2 Slender-billed Starlings perched atop a dead tree. We again, unsuccessfully, tried for the pigeons but had at least 25 Alpine and 2 Mottled Swifts flying over in ahead of an ominous-looking thundercloud, 3 African Grey Parrots and at least 6 Blue-throated Rollers hawking over the treeline. We had one last meal at our comfortable guesthouse and had an early night.
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Old Monday 27th July 2009, 13:29   #16
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Nick - yep, bugger is the definitely the word!! No avoiding them at all as Jos says....still, a small price to pay!
Chowie - consider it! Excellent country
H - good to have you on board again!
Jos - jus wish our trip was as 'interesting' as yours...then again, maybe not!!
The rest will follow guys, glad you're enjoying it

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Old Monday 27th July 2009, 15:40   #17
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Ronald from a nearby village. A very jolly chap indeed and great company

Ronald suddenly stopped and pointed to a horizontal branch about 20ft up and there it was, perched with its back to us – a simply stunning Green-breasted Pitta!!
No wonder!
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Old Tuesday 28th July 2009, 19:10   #18
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Nice report Ads, can't wait to read the rest of the trip!

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Old Wednesday 29th July 2009, 10:33   #19
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Jos - jus wish our trip was as 'interesting' as yours...then again, maybe not!!
Your words 'then Ronald suddenly stopped and pointed to a horizontal branch about 20ft up and there it was, perched with its back to us – a simply stunning Green-breasted Pitta!! WOW! What a phenomenal bird!' trump most what I saw on the trip

A big regret I couldn't get to Semliki area...
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Old Wednesday 29th July 2009, 15:31   #20
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– and then Ronald suddenly stopped and pointed to a horizontal branch about 20ft up and there it was, perched with its back to us – a simply stunning Green-breasted Pitta!! WOW! What a phenomenal bird!

Great trip report Ads. Brings back some quality memories - i did the same route other way round; Uganda has been one of my fav trips to date. Loved Semuliki, Mgahinga and Ruhija. Waiting to see if you got the broadbill, and any brucies like Shelley's Crimsonwing or a ground thrush!!

Well done on the Pitta, there is a GBP photo similar to your encounter, and some other of my photos that have been put on flickr (the first 90 odd in the photo stream linked)... And below a photo that is very poor, but it is an Ituri Batis, honest :-)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/fl55407...7605703819532/
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Old Wednesday 29th July 2009, 17:12   #21
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Hey Gareth - cheers for that and your photos are pretty damned good!! Well done on getting the pitta like that too - and you're right, the 1st pic of it was basically identical to our first sighting! Nice one of the ground-hormbill too (grrrr....!) beginning to think those birds don't exist!
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Old Wednesday 29th July 2009, 17:19   #22
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20th June – We loaded our stuff into the van and were off by 0630 and 2hrs later we entered the vast (2000km2!) Queen Elizabeth NP. If we had more time it would’ve been great to spend a couple of days in here but all we could do today was drive through it. We still saw some good birds like Southern Red Bishop, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Common Scimitarbill, Arrow-marked Babbler, Red-necked Spurfowl, Trilling Cisticola, Grassland Pipit, Water Stone-Curlew, Greater Painted-Snipe, African Gos, Martial Eagle, Brown Snake-Eagle, White-winged Widowbird, Cardinal Wood, Greater Honeyguide and White-browed Coucal whilst a stop for water in one of the villages gave us breeding Lesser Masked-Weavers and 3 Diederik Cuckoos. The animals were very much in evidence too with Ugandan Kob, Bushbuck, Defassa Waterbuck, Topi, Olive Baboon and Tantalus Monkeys seen although we saw no sign of the only tree-climbing lions in the world here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many butterflies either- the grasslands were absolutely covered with small white ones in their thousands.
We stopped for lunch at the swish Savannah Hotel before continuing with our journey up into the mountains towards Bwindi. The road was pretty crap in places and very dusty – reminded of the Gibb River in Oz! We had a couple of fine Grey Crowned-Cranes by the roadside and finally reached ‘The Neck’ by mid-afternoon and started to bird from the road. Top place must go to the 3 stunning Black Bee-eaters that we watched perched on dead branches, the combination of black, red and electric blue just gorgeous.
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The supporting cast was pretty impressive too, including African Crowned Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Crested Guineafowl, Grey Apalis, Pink-footed Puffback, Lead-coloured Tit-Fly, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Speckled Tinkerbird, Red-tailed Greenbul, Yellow-spotted Barbet and 2 fine male Petit’s Cuckooshrikes. We stopped further along the road near some agriculture and had Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Chubb’s Cisticola, Black Saw-wing, a female African Stonechat, MacKinnon’s Fiscal, Red-throated Rock Martins and Yellow-crowned Canary.
We then drove into the tiny village of Ruhija and pulled into our accommodation for the next three nights – the Gorilla Friends Resort Campsite. We were staying in fixed ‘safari-style’ tents built on the sheer valley-side with absolutely fantastic views from the veranda which was the place’s only saving grace as the facilities here are very basic – the toilet was literally a hole in the floorboards covered by a plank of wood with a broom handle on it....even worse than Indian toilets (and that’s saying something!!!) as at least they have a place to put your feet so you know where your loaf’s gonna drop....here you had to kinda keep watching where it was going...nice! Ewan’s response to this was to take a few Imodiums..! There is also no electricity but the mobile-phone recharging shop in the village has a generator and would charge things up for a minimal price which was handy.
After dropping off our gear we drove 5mins up the road and birded the forest edge along the road to the school. Lots of mountain goodies were here, including Chestnut-throated Apalis with their telephone-ringing calls, Mountain Masked-Apalis, smart Red-faced Woodland-Warblers, Rwenzori Hill-Babbler, gorgeous Regal and Northern Double-collared Sunbirds, Grey Cuckooshrike, Stripe-breasted Tit, lively White-tailed Blue-Flys, several Mountain Yellow-Warblers, Northern Puffback, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, Slender-billed Starling, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater and Red-bellied Paradise-Fly with Carruther’s Squirrel being a new addition to the mammal list.
Upon our return to the camp and over a warm beer we learned some more bad news concerning our hosts – there was no food!! Chris’ face was a picture! Luckily for us, a not-too-impressed Herbert made a couple of calls and took us up the road to a little covered eatery in what looked like the middle of nowhere. I think this was the back of a posh place but the cooks there whipped us up an amazing soup and steak ‘n’ chips! Result, even the beer was cold! The weather up here was very windy and quite cold too – glad I brought a fleece with me now!

21st June – Up early today as today was gorilla day! We left by 0730 and were ready at the gates by 0800 and waited for the rest of our group to turn up, seeing a fine pair of Golden-breasted Buntings collecting food around the buildings, Chubb’s Cisticolas, Stuhlmann’s Weaver and a Thick-billed Seedeater also. The other 5 guys turned up and then we met our guide for the day, Obed, a really nice young guy who was all smiles, and had our briefing about what to do and what to expect. Some of the group opted to hire porters so once it was all sorted we were back in the cars by 0900 as a flock of 60+ Chestnut-winged Starlings zoomed by and driven up the road for a bit to the trail head. We set off down the very steep and slippery track, through the thick undergrowth, holding onto vines and dodging spiky branches. Obed got a call from the trackers informing him the gorillas were only about 30mins away! What a bonus as you can have to walk for anything up to 5hrs to find them! This cheered everyone up and as we began to climb up the opposite valley we found the trackers who indicated a black shape hunkered up in a tree – a huge Mountain Gorilla!! Unbelievable! We dropped off our packs and left them with the porters as we followed Obed and the trackers through the thick undergrowth.
As they hacked through the sinewy tangles with their machetes they suddenly drew up and called us closer – there, up ahead on an indistinct trail, was a huge silverback happily munching away! He soon moved off and we followed, albeit a hell of a lot slower and noisier! We finally got into a small ditch and watched in amazement as one, then two, silverbacks walked within 5ft of us and sat down, pulling leaves down and eating them. We moved further ahead and in a small clearing we found the rest of the group and spent the next hour sitting quietly with them and the swarms of flies they attract! This habituated group, the Bitukura family, consists of 4 silverbacks, 2 blackbacks (younger males), 3 females and their 2 infants and a juvenile. The second silverback, Rukumu, has an old wound to his middle finger so that it continually sticks up and looks like he’s always giving you the finger which makes him very popular with the photographers! We watched in contemplative awe as they lolled around, eating, sleeping, farting....what a life! We watched one of the infants climb up a tree and fall off...and, almost embarrassed, he never showed his little face again! How can anyone kill these amazing creatures that not just look back at you but actually watch you? A real life-changing moment and one that will live with me forever...I felt humbled and privileged by this experience and it is hard to put into words the feelings it gave me.
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All too quickly our time with these gentle giants was up so we began the slog back up the valley to the road where we decided to walk back to the HQ, reaching it by 1130. We had a little ceremony where we all given certificates and bought obligatory t-shirts then went back to the camp where we did not a lot until 1600....again, reading trip reports people went birding in the park during this time....not impressed. We went back to the same road as yesterday and added quite a few new birds like the subtly-marked Grauer’s Warbler which showed exceptionally well, Ludher’s Bushshrike, Rwenzori Batis, Rwenzori Apalis, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Rwenzori Double-collared Sunbird, Strange Weaver, Streaky Seedeater and Mountain (split from Olive) Thrush.
We then drove into the park and birded various areas along the road and saw a few new ones – Olive-throated (split form Mountain) Greenbul, Dusky Crimsonwing, White-starred Robin, Waller’s, Sharpe’s and Stuhlmann’s Starlings, Rameron Pigeons, Kandt’s Waxbill, Western Green Tinkerbird and White-eyed Slaty-Fly. An Archer’s Robin-Chat refused to come up and show itself but as we drove back after dusk we came across 2 excellent Rwenzori Nightjars on the road, giving brilliant views.
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We got back to the camp after enjoying a great day and went back to the same place as yesterday for another top meal and some celebratory beers!

Last edited by birdboybowley : Wednesday 29th July 2009 at 20:03.
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Old Wednesday 29th July 2009, 17:21   #23
rockfowl
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Great stuff BBB, (a gorgeous Black-faced Rufous-Warbler) - magic birds with an electric glow! Congrats on the Pitta, a much desired species, even since Uganda became quite reliable, many still miss it. Great country, incredible birds and primates..well mammals in general. Looking forward to the next installment even though at some stage, I'm expecting its gonna hurt! - I missed something special, a good reason to go back!
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Old Wednesday 29th July 2009, 17:30   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by birdboybowley View Post
20th June
As they hacked through the sinewy tangles with their machetes they suddenly drew up and called us closer – there, up ahead on an indistinct trail, was a huge silverback happily munching away! He soon moved off and we followed, albeit a hell of a lot slower and noisier! We finally got into a small ditch and watched in amazement as one, then two, silverbacks walked within 5ft of us and sat down, pulling leaves down and eating them. We moved further ahead and in a small clearing we found the rest of the group and spent the next hour sitting quietly with them and the swarms of flies they attract! This habituated group, the Bitukura family, consists of 4 silverbacks, 2 blackbacks (younger males), 3 females and their 2 infants and a juvenile. The second silverback, Rukumu, has an old wound to his middle finger so that it continually sticks up and looks like he’s always giving you the finger which makes him very popular with the photographers! We watched in contemplative awe as they lolled around, eating, sleeping, farting....what a life! We watched one of the infants climb up a tree and fall off...and, almost embarrassed, he never showed his little face again! How can anyone kill these amazing creatures that not just look back at you but actually watch you? A real life-changing moment and one that will live with me forever...I felt humbled and privileged by this experience and it is hard to put into words the feelings it gave me.
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I know exactly what you mean, my group didn't speak for several hours afterwards! I worked alongside Lowland Gorillas for six years, but nothing prepared me for an encounter with Mountain over there. A magic moment BBB
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Old Thursday 30th July 2009, 13:18   #25
Paul Higson
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Superb!!

Friend going out there in September with his wife who is doing VSO for two years based in Kampala, was thinking about going out there for a visit - read this and have just spent the last hour pricing up flights etc.

Roll on Jan/Feb 2011!!!! - I'm on my way.

Next installment please...

Cheers,

Paul
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