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Hix Does Uganda (Part II) - Unfinished Business

Discussion in 'Uganda' started by Hix, 16 Sep 2014.

  1. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Day 1: 16 September
    So after travelling for around 27 or 28 hours I finally arrived in Entebbe and at the Boma Hotel. Although the temperature was only around 25C it still seemed rather hot, so it was great to settle into my room and have a cool refreshing shower.

    The gardens are full of birds so I spent the next few hours either photographing birds or wrestling with my laptop. The laptop - a last minute addition when my Microsoft Surface spat the dummy - has a broken wifi adapter. I've tried several attempts to get it working, but it is either disabled or off.

    So my updates are going to be short, unfortunately, because it's only with my iPad that I can access the internet. While transiting in Dubai I almost bought an Asus Transformer T100 for US$400, but chose not too. Wish I had now.

    Tomorrow I'm off to Mabamba Swamp to hopefully see and photograph a Shoebill. Those of you that followed my adventures in Uganda last year might remember I looked for Shoebills in a number of places, and Mabamba is supposed to be the best opportunity of seeing them. But I still missed out. The Shoebill is the unfinished business referred to in the title of this thread.

    :p

    Hix
     
  2. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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    Glad to hear that you made it to Uganda. Good luck with the shoebill hunt.
     
  3. OrangePerson

    OrangePerson Well-Known Member

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    Good luck with the shoebill & mind your back!
     
  4. vogelcommando

    vogelcommando Well-Known Member

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    Wish you also good luck with finding the Shoebill at least :)
     
  5. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Day 2: September 17

    Up at 5:00 to have a shower and get ready for the day's birding. Breakfast at 6:00 and then I got picked up at 6:30 by Joseph, the guide who took myself and Orangeperson (and Co.) around Uganda last year. After our initial greetings we jumped into his 4WD and headed out for Mabamba Swamp, an hour away.

    Nothing much had changed with Joseph over the past year. There was lots of work, he's been pretty busy almost constantly doing tours and safaris. In fact, tomorrow he takes off again with a group for another 12 day safari.
    Although it was very early in the morning there was an inordinate number of school kids on the road walking to school and our conversation eventually turned to discussing them. The reason there were so many kids out this early is because they start school either at 6:30 or 7:00am, depending on the school. They have a 20 minute break around 10:00 and then finish up at 12:30. For the young ones that's the day's schooling done, but the elder senior years return at 2:00pm and continue on until around 5:00pm.

    I saw a few very small children and asked how young do they start school, and Joseph answered "Three and a half years old". Seeing a four year old girl with her head shaved, in uniform, walking to school by herself with a black plastic bag with a few small books in it, walking on the road with cars/trucks/motorcycles whizzing past her only inches away was something that just wouldn't happen in our society.

    Joseph also told me that the kids love school. "Out of 100" he said "maybe only one or two will hide".

    Despite the conversation I was still able to keep an eye out for birds. Around the village of Kasanje I saw a flash of bright red in the top of a palm tree and got a quick glimpse of a Grey Parrot. A bit further along there was a pair of Eastern Plantain-eaters in a tree, and not long after that a quartet of Great Blue Turacos.

    We arrived at the swamp just before 8:00 and met our guide, Maria. After introductions, an explanation of the disappointment when I didn't see shoebills last year, and a minute or two looking at weaver birds in a nearby tree we climbed into one of the canoes (that had an outboard motor) with Samuel who was the boatman. On the way down the first channel Maria told me a little about papyrus and it's uses, all of which I promptly forgot. I asked her about the Papyrus Gonolek, a spectacular denizen of the Papyrus Swamp but threatened/endangered due to loss of habitat. It's a shy bird, but Maria knew the species and told me that it is only rarely seen.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1682/veillot-s-black-weaver-384783/

    We turned off the main channel into what appeared to be the same channel we turned into a year previously, and then we started seeing the same very common birds: Yellowbilled Ducks, Longtoed Lapwings, Malachite and Pied Kinfishers, African Jacanas and the occasional Lesser Jacana, Winding Cisticolas, Fantailed Widowbirds, Bluebreasted Bee-eaters and Longtailed Cormorants. Periodically I would stand up and scan the surrounding swamp with my binoculars looking for shoebills, but it was to no avail. The overcast weather didn't help either, and cloudcover appeared to be getting heavier. After half-an-hour or so we pushed the canoe up another small channel and Maria climbed up onto the prow of the boat while I looked for any birds close enough to photograph.

    "Yes!" I heard Maria whisper, and she looked around at me with a big grin and gave me a thumbs up. I stood up and looked in the direction she was pointing, and several hundred metres distant I could just see a small dark blob that didn't appear to blend in with the background as all the other reeds and vegetation. I trained my binoculars on the blob and the head of a shoebill came into focus, it's body obscured by the tall grass and reeds. I suddenly realised why they are so hard to find. Despite the distance, I took a photo just to prove I had seen one.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1682/shoebill-384705/

    A debate sprung up between Maria and Samuel about the best way to get closer, and eventually we started pushing ahead up a narrow path through the floating vegetation. Because of all the water lilies and the mud we couldn't use the outboard so Maria stood in the front pushing us on with a pole and Samuel in the back with a paddle. Several times we ran aground on floating vegetation and Samuel eventually got out into the waist-deep water and started dragging the canoe. When I looked behind me Joseph had the paddle and was using that to push us along. There was nothing left for me to do but sit there like Lord Muck and take photos.

    After about ten minutes I caught sight of the shoebill in flight, in the distance. But it didn't fly away, it actually came closer, and a another five minutes and we could see it again. In the end we got to within 35-40 metres of the bird and I had unobstructed views. The bird could see us, and spent some time looking at us, but didn't seem too perturbed by our presence. It was a female, distinguished from the male by the larger crest on the back of the head, and the wet belly feathers indicated it had been feeding. A bit hard to judge accurately but I guess it was about 1.5 metres tall, close to five feet. After ten minutes watching it I had all the photos I needed and was very, very happy!

    http://www.zoochat.com/1682/shoebill-384780/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1682/shoebill-384781/

    We continued on to another channel where there was some deeper water and we could use the outboard again, and the shoebill watched us leave. We crossed to the other side of the main channel, to what appears like a deepwater lake w at this point, but only a few minutes.ithin the swamp, but eventually leads out to Lake Victoria. And here, sitting on little islands of floating vegetation, were hundreds of Whitewinged Terns (or White-winged Black Terns, as they are also known). They were all in their non-breeding plumage, and at one point something spooked them and they all took to the skies for a few minutes before settling back down again. The sun had come out for a few minutes, but quickly went behind a cloud again.

    We stopped near an island and while I photographed some moorhens, cormorants and another weaver species, Maria started making loud 'shhhhhh'ing sounds. Eventually there was a melodic response which she told me was the Papyrus Gonolek, but despite all her attempts, the bird refused to show itself. So we headed back to shore. All up we had seen about 32 species in and around the swamp, which wasn't too bad for a couple of hours.

    http://www.zoochat.com/1682/squacco-heron-384782/
    http://www.zoochat.com/1682/hamerkop-384779/

    The normal tip for guides is about 10,000 - 20,000 Ugandan Shillings, but I tipped both Maria and Samuel 50,000 each as they had done a sterling job dragging and pushing the canoe through the shallows.

    Our next stop was Mpanga Forest. This is a large forest reserve about a half hour from Mabamba and an hour from Kampala. It is supposed to be excellent for birding, but unfortunately we arrived at 11:00 when most birds have started to slow down from their early morning feeding endeavours. Everything except the Black-and-White Casqued Hornbills. These guys were in the tops of trees and spent the whole time laughing at each other (or maybe they were laughing at us hoping to see birds at this time of day). I use the word laughing, because one of their contact calls sounds like laughter. We heard probably a couple of dozen of them, but saw only five or six.

    Our guide, John, took us on a two hour walk through the forest. This forest is very tall, and looking for birds was difficult due to all the foliage. At one point Joseph said he saw a squirrel, and he pointed at one of the more heavily vegetated areas. I looked through my binoculars and didn't see a squirrel, but did catch sight of a red tail that I knew belonged to a Redtailed Monkey. A minute later I got a much better view of his spotnosed face.
    We heard lots of birds, but couldn't see them, and the few we did see were heard to identify - mainly female weavers and female sunbirds. And they were mainly up high. John and I watched a bird feeding in the treetops that was silhouetted against the grey clouds, waiting for it to be at an angle where we could make out some features. After a minute it moved to a different branch and we could suddenly see a bright yellow vent. We both laughed that we had wasted so much time on a Common Bulbul. In Mabamba Swamp we had seen one, and Maria told me they call them Entebbe Bird because it is so common in Entebbe. It's very common throughout much of the country.

    At one point John became aware of a small pair of birds flying around in the shrubbery at ground level. Eventually we saw a couple of small black-and-white birds darting around. Although my view was obscured by vegetation one of the birds eventually presented enough of itself for me to recognise that it had a batis-like shape (a batis is a small passerine). And then I got a good look at its eye and saw an enlarged puffy periothalmic area and realised it was a wattle-eye. John agreed, but wasn't sure which species. The birds flew off while I was focusing my camera. But when I returned to my hotel and looked up what I saw I identified it as a female Chestnut Wattle-eye.

    The only other bird I saw was a woodpecker, high in the trees. Again, almost a silhouette but I took some photos because I photograph in RAW as well as .jpg, and I can often enhance colours in RAW photos to help in identification. And Uganda has lots of woodpeckers, many which are very similar.

    On the way to Mpanga Forest the sun had come out, but it bvanished again once we arrved. During the walk there had been the odd thunderclap in the distance, and just as we finished the walk it started to rain lightly. But 15 minutes later in the car again, the sun came back out and beat down strongly all the way to Kampala.

    I had asked Joseph if he knew of a computer store in Entebbe, because of the broken wifi adapter in my laptop. I thought I might try buying a USB wifi adapter and using that instead. Joseph said the best stores were in Kampala, and he had to collect some things from the office anyway, so we went there. We tried three different stores before we found exactly what I wanted, and it only cost about USD$30.

    So after a long day Joseph dropped me back off at the Boma at around 5:30pm. I gave him a good tip, because of all the extra effort to get me the adapter, and because he spent a lot of time helping to pole the canoe through the shallows in the swamp. And he was starting a new 12-day tour tomorrow. It was very good to see him again.

    After dinner I plugged my adapter into my laptop and installed it. There seemed to still be an issue, but my computer's troubleshooter fixed the issue - by shutting down the adapter completely. Now the new adapter refuses to even power up. After investigating further a found a comment in Device Manager saying the software for the adapter was incompatible and was causing a conflict.

    But here's the kicker - the built-in adapter started working again!

    Bloody technology! But the surprises weren't finished yet. All my photos were underexposed, and I have no idea why. Possibly something to do with the new camera I have, a Canon 70D. But this is not a problem, because with my RAW editor (Adobe's Lightroom) I can easily correct this. Or so I thought. Apparently, the RAW format used in the 70D is new and not recognised by my version of Lightroom, so I'm going to have to find and download an update - over a weak wifi signal with a dodgy adapter.

    The joys of travelling in the wilds!

    :p

    Hix

    New birds sighted today (i.e. Lifers): Shoebill, Blue-headed Coucal, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Spectacled Weaver, Eurasian (Common) Moorhen, Little Grebe, Swamp Flycatcher.

    Postscript: After dark there is this loud piping noise coming from the trees. After several attempts at spotlighting I finally discovered it's coming from a bat. No attempts to photograph it yet, because it flies off too quickly, but maybe I'll get lucky tonight.
     
    Last edited: 18 Sep 2014
  6. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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    Congratulations on your shoebill sighting. May the rest of your trip go as well.
     
  7. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    Congratulations! May this be an omen of how well the rest of your trip will go :)

    Incidentally, have a Lucky Bastard Award too ;) there are precious few Shoebill remaining in European collections, sad to say.
     
  8. nanoboy

    nanoboy Well-Known Member

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    Top blog as usual. Don't forget to post a link to the pics.
     
  9. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Thanks guys! As for the pics, I'll have to upload them first!

    :p

    Hix
     
  10. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

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    Hope the rest of your trip goes as succesfully! Good luck heading to the top of Africa! (I wouldn't do it. I hate low oxygen environments. Barely coped in the simien mountains in Ethiopia)
     
  11. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    Day 3: September 18

    After a good night's sleep I spent the morning on the computer and internet. At around 10:30 I set out for the Ugandan Wildlife Education Centre (formerly the Entebbe Zoo). About 2.5 kilometres from the Boma, it took only 30 minutes to walk there. Some cloud about, but lots of sun too, in contrast to yesterday.

    The UWEC hadn't changed too much since last year, mainly cosmetic changes like lining the borders of paths with rocks, a perimeter security fence down by the beach, and developing the beach front near the restaurant to make it more attractive with landscaping and picnic bandas for dining.

    A couple of additions to the collection: a baby Verreaux's Eagle Owl that had been a rescue animal, and an additional four shoebills, giving them a total of five. I asked a staff member about this and she told me they were rescue animals - from Mabamba Swamp. Apparently they were being hunted by the fishermen who believe they compete for fish (which they probably do, but not in a volume that would significantly affect the fisherman's catch. Shoebill don't eat Nile Perch or Tilapia.

    The four new shoebills were in an aviary with the Fishing Eagles (the eagles were also rescue birds, unable to fly after hitting powerlines), and the original shoebill was still in his aviary, but shared it now with a pair of pelicans. last year the aviary was heavily overgrown with reeds and water plants, and weeds, but this has been cleaned, the lawns mowed and it is not overgrown at all. Even the holes in the mesh had been repaired.

    The aviary with the African Grey Parrots has more than a dozen birds, all very vocal, and a sign outside stating it is illegal to keep them as pets. And on one of the larger exhibits there is still a label for Giant Forest Hog, but their last hog died over a year ago. The only suid they have now is warthog.

    The reptile house had some empty enclosures - only three appeared to have occupants, and only one had a label. That was the rock python exhibit, and they had some very large Rock Pythons, glistening as they had just come out of their pool. Another enclosure I could just see either a Gaboon Viper or a Rhinoceros Viper on some dried leaves in a box in the enclosure, and the third exhibit had about a dozen Leopard Tortoises and some turtles.

    But I was also there for the wildlife - wild animals that either visit the zoo or call the zoo home. I saw Colobus feeding high in the treetops behind the otters, and a troop of 60+ vervets in the playground area and around the restaurant. The rhino enclosure also had several striped ground squirrels.

    The birds were far more plentiful and obvious, and diverse. Of the species I could identify, I counted about 30 species and they were all the common ones I saw there last year. Bulbuls, hadada Ibis, Hornbills, Black and Yellow-billed Kites, Egyptian Geese and Marabou were all fairly common as would be expected. The beach had Geese, Pied Kingfisher, Egrets, Cormorants, Terns and Sandpipers.

    After three hours I left the zoo to visit the Botanic Gardens. Just outside the zoo entrance, however, I saw a male sunbird sitting in a tree. I took my camera out of my bag and took a number of photos of it - I'll need to identify it later.

    It took 20 minutes to walk to the Botanic Gardens, and I was looking forward to it as the gardens are full of birds. The first bird I saw on entering was an African Thrush, but I had trouble focusing on it with my binoculars. After playing around with it for a few minutes I concluded there was definitely something wrong - I can get two good clearly focused images but they don't overlap. I think the prisms may have been jarred out of alignment. And then I remembered - when taking my camera out of my bag to photograph the sunbird, the lens caught on the binocular strap and pulled the binoculars out of the bag, dropping them on the ground. I didn't think too much about it at the time because they have a rubber coating that makes them waterproof to one metre, and shockproof for a drop of two metres. But that's the only explanation I have. Damn.

    I spent 90 minutes in the Botanic Gardens and saw more species of birds than I did in the zoo, although most of them were the same common species. While sitting at the little kiosk on the beachfront drinking a Mirinda Fruity (a soft drink) and admiring the view of Lake Victoria I suddenly heard a roll of thunder. Looking behind me I saw some very dark grey clouds coming in from the east, so I headed back to the entrance and walked back to the Boma. On the way I looked up at the clouds to see if they were gaining and I noticed about thirty bee-eaters wheeling above. I couldn't tell which species but the silhouettes were definitely bee-eaters.

    Half an hour later I arrived back at the Boma, and although the clouds were still looking - and sounding - ominous, they were moving very slowly, and the sun had continued to beat down from the west. So I decided to take a duip in the pool, and then relaxed poolside doing Killer Sudokus until dinner.

    Tomorrow my flight to Kilimanjaro leaves at 5:00am, meaning I have to be at the airport at 3:00am. So after dinner I packed quickly and got an early night.


    :p

    Hix
     
  12. devilfish

    devilfish Well-Known Member

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    Wow, three days in and already a thrilling adventure! Many congratulations on your shoebill sighting - good luck for the rest of the trip. :)
     
  13. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    Which species of Fishing Eagle did you see at the UWEC?
     
  14. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

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    Is Mabamba swamp protected? I couldn't see it on the Ugandan National Parks website.
     
  15. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    TLD - African Fishing Eagle. They're fairly common.

    Laughing Dove - Mabamba Swamp is not a National Park. It's a community-based ecotourism venture.

    However, the wetland area in the bay is recognised as an IBA - an Important Bird Area - in Uganda.

    :p

    Hix
     
  16. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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