January 30 2017. Queen Elizabeth park and beyond, Uganda. My previous four postings were almost as much about people and places as birds. They recounted some of my experiences while making my circuitous way from Entebbe/Kampala, Uganda’s capital, to Rubugari, a small forest-edge village in south-west Uganda where I spent February.
This, I think though, will be the last of my ‘on-the-road’ sagas, tales about astonishing Ugandan places and astonishing Ugandan animals. From now on, sprinkled among local Ontario bird stories, I’ll revisit specific Ugandan birds as Birds of the Day in my usual manner. Besides, it’s now mid-March and spring is trying to dig itself out. To that point, only yesterday, not far from home, I saw and photographed this delightful little Eastern Screech Owl.
Eastern Screech owl
Following our day in Queen Elizabeth Park, we had to press on southwards. That meant more travelling than lingering but still there were lots of really fascinating animals along the way.
Because we were on the move it was always easier to spot the big stuff and my notes for the day include several eagle and hawk sighting: Black Kites (probably the most abundant raptor in Uganda or Rwanda) Martial Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, Palm Nut Vulture, African Fish Eagle, Bataleur (Eagle), Pallid Harrier, Black-shouldered Kite and African Crowned Eagle. This last one, the Crowned Eagle really stood out because unlike many eagles, which tend to be generally rather browny-black, it is described in my field guide as a “Massive, heavily-marked eagle with a rough crest.” And so it was, loudly marked with zebra-stripes across its underside. We watched one atop a large roadside tree communicating loudly with its family, plotting how they were going to isolate and seize one of the Black and White Colobus Monkeys scrambling for fruit in a nearby fig tree.
African Crowned Eagle
On the topic of large eagles, a pair of Bataleurs made us stop and watch for a long while, appropriately I suppose because ‘bataleur’ means‘street performer’ in old-French. We were open-mouthed at the sight of them, they really are worth feasting your eyes on although I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were performing. The Bataleur is a chunky, short-tailed, and boldly marked eagle: black, chestnut and grey with scarlet feet, bill, cere and facial skin. I had Bataleurs tucked away in the back of my mind as one of those mythical birds – something I’d read and dreamed about but never thought I’d see. We later learned that we had scrutinized a juvenile Bataleur the previous evening but at the time were utterly baffled as to its identity. Two days later a couple of East-African bird experts helped us out, identifying it from my photos by the expanse of facial skin.
There was more to this journey than eagles and birds of course: In the distance I saw a small and ponderous group of African Elephants; It was easy to spot herds of Uganda Kob – a pretty and nervous antelope relished by lions and pythons; A few Topi crossed the road in front of us, they are closely related to the musically-named Hartebeast. Wherever a group of Topi stops to graze one or two stand as lookouts on a convenient high-spot – A wise precaution I felt.
We made a brief detour to Kisenyi, a fishing village on the shore of Lake Edward; Robert thought I’d be interested to see it. I was but found it rather shocking, discouraging anyway, that a small community barely a kilometer from a main road should be so overlooked by the twentieth (let alone twenty-first) century. Two parallel lines of tiny, shabby block-construction homes were strung along the indicated route, you couldn’t call it a road, leading to the lake’s edge. Marabou Storks and Hamerkops picked for food in the ruts and grass. Along the peaceful shore was a line of elegant, high-ended wooden boats with small teams of men who were sorting, cleaning and re-stacking the fine-mesh nets ready for the next night’s work; they were the day crew. The fishing teams go at night, rowing out to catch what they can to bring home at dawn. One or two ‘rich men’ own the boats and the catch, they contract with the villagers to do the hard work; a bit like share-cropping I think. It was picturesque I suppose, the lake, all those boats lined up and the men at work, but I didn’t see it as pretty, it just struck me as a timeless treadmill of toil with no evidence of a way out.
Kisenyi fishing Village on Lake Edward
Well, there was a lot more. We had hoped to see a famous tourist attraction, the tree-climbing lions of Ishasha. No-one seems to know why they behave that way, and they didn’t do any climbing for us. But I didn’t mind, I’d seen lions the day before and much preferred the way they loafed around like big pussycats.
African Jacana. Ishasha
In fact, more exciting I think were a pair of African Jacanas searching actively for invertebrates among the dense aquatic plants of a lush waterhole. Robert told me that this sort of isolated pond is just the kind of place you could expect to find a young male hippo, outlawed and feeling sorry for itself after losing a battle for status with an older male. There weren’t any but it looked so much like many of the shallow ponds around home that I’ll be sure to look more closely in future.
My tally of birds for this day included such fancifully named birds as Yellow-throated Longclaw, Black-headed Gonolek, Wooly-necked Stork, Malachite Kingfisher, Open-billed Stork, and Common Scimitarbill, so fanciful that a week or so later my companions in Rubugari accused me of making it up and for all they knew I could have been. Here are a few pictures of birds from that day, each dramatic in its own way.