Sunday, April 11, 2010

Finfoot & Battle weary buffalo (Lake Mburo Part 4)

We also came across another buffalo who had clearly just returned from an un-televised WWF fight somewhere. Nothing was left of the right eye and the left eye was seriously swollen - what did the other guy(s) look like??!! He was well grumpy with his only eye opening painfully on the lake and probably wondering where all the land had disappeared to. Needless to say, Moses steered the boat out of reach of this old man.
Pleasantly chugging along, Moses pointed out (less excited than before) another Finfoot. OK, I can get excited about a 2nd Finfoot - no problem with that, so off went the rapid shutter fire again, hoping for at least one decent hit. Why can't these birds be curious and stop and look at us at least for a few seconds?? They just don't make them like they used to anymore!

Well, a few near misses with the rapid fire accounts for this shot;

Starting to make our way back towards the shore (geez, time's flying!) it was only about 5min later when Moses blandly stated "Oh, there's another one." Another what?!...buffalo, flying pig, jumping fish, to me!! My head spinning like somebody at a Red Arrows aerobatic show trying to watch 5 planes all over the sky. Just another finfoot he says - my exclamation of 'HUH' this time is not due to shock but the near ridiculous occurrence of Finfoots here. Who said they're hard to see - they're a dime a dozen for Pete's sake! But still trying for a decent hit, rapid shutter fire is engaged which appears to be more accurate - lack of adrenaline maybe?

Getting to shore after spotting some distant Pink-backed Pelicans, we thank Moses with huge smiles for an entertaining and extremely productive boat trip. He later comes over to us again asking if I would please send photos of the White-backed Night Heron and mating Fish Eagles - these are important sightings you see. And of the African Finfoot Moses, I ask - nah, that's ok he mumbles. (I wonder how many Finfoots he sees every day?!)

Settling down for a soda in the lakeside local restaurant, we continue to watch the 30-40 Yellow Wagtails foraging in the grass and dozens of Barn and Lesser Striped Swallows feasting on the emerging lake flies/midges. Turning to look at the Village Weaver colony with the seemingly single intruding Lesser Masked Weaver, something swims out from the tree and along the campsite shore - ANOTHER finfoot - Nooooooooooo!?!? This must be a joke! They got zillions of radio controlled finfoots or what? and NO, I didn't take pictures of this bird as well.

The missus gave me the good news that she felt quite relaxed and there was no rush back to the lodge so a leisurely birding drive was in order. Must be something in air bringing me all this luck on a single morning! (I did ask for confirmation about this leisurely drive a few times before we left though).

Relaxation was clearly on the mind of others as well (we were only a accorded a very brief perfunctory look before dozing off again)

The rest of the drive back wasn't extremely busy bird-wise (something to do with it being 1pm?) but we came across our 1st baboons for the trip and more of the very common Bateleurs in the sky. I have absolutely no reason to believe that the Bateleurs in this park ever perch in trees, but in fact spend their life on the wing soaring at great heights. A Long-crested Eagle was following suit and enjoying the afternoon thermals.

A little junction where we turned off appeared to be the birds' junction as well with Red-rumped Swallows, Spot-flanked Barbet, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Black-necked Weaver and at least 10-15 Little Bee-eaters.

After about 6x Broad-billed Rollers, all seemingly in fresh plumage, and some Fork-tailed Drongos, we stopped later closer to the lodge for a photo of our room perched on a rocky outcrop.

We took a bit of a break at the room before my contemplated walk into the woodland and bush around the lodge later.

Part 5 soon

Fish Eagles going for gold! (Lake Mburo Part 3)

With heart rates slowly returning to a state of what would be considered sort of normal, Moses angled the boat toward another section of papyrus and reeds, going nice and slowly. Malachite and Pied Kingfishers abounded to the point they made sparrows and house crows seem rare, although their numbers were never remotely near the number of Fish Eagles.

As far as one could see along the shores there were pairs, individuals and immatures perched - pairs were max 100m apart, so the call of Africa was in "super theatre" surround sound, occasionally shattered to embarrassing smithereens by the breaking and untrained voice of a youngster (not a dissimilar interruption to that of a single strum of a loud un-tuned electric guitar in the middle a choral choir's performance!)

We slowly crossed this section of lake to where the shore was lined with large fig trees and acacias - in addition to overhanging vegetation and some papyrus and reeds here and there. After the heron's blaze of glory, I remained silent about the possibility of African Finfoot, not wanting to jinx the possibility of a sighting. The perched Fish Eagles provided for some relaxing photography of pairs as well individuals flying and calling at the same time which rather looked like a Boeing plane with a Concorde nose upside down - don't these flippen birds care to look where they're flying, heads pointed at the sky and calling yet hurtling through space like kamikaze pilots?!! A nice scoop for me was a sequence of photos of a pair mating (missed out only on photos of some Fish Eagle laying eggs I think)

Let's do it like they do it on the Discovery Channel darling!

Hang on love!! Nearly there (thinks... "damn, almost losing my balance here!")

Phew!! Male: "That was hard Work!" Female: "THAT's IT??!"

Pushing this avian exhibitionism reluctantly to the back of our minds we approached the outer edge of the comfort zone of a buffalo relaxing on the shore with a small retinue of attendees including Little Egret, 6x Water Thick-knees, Pied Wagtail and at a safer distance, Common Sandpiper.

The 'upstanding' member of the retinue

Common Sandpiper preferring the safer option a bit further away

Slowly drifting past this scene of inactivity, I almost did a back somersault out of the boat when Moses hissed "quick!! Photo!! Finfoot!!!". My eyes wide at this sudden excitement, searched and saw nada! "Where Moses?" "In front of us!!" came the tolerant reply. ahhhhhhhh!!! oh WOOOW! The sound of rapid shutter fire dominates the air waves for a few seconds, then quiet - gets rather difficult taking photos when your grin is halfway around your head! Heart now again racing, palms sweating and adrenaline pumping, Moses makes the understated and softly spoken comment of "Oh, and there's a crocodile" Hmmmmm! the visible parts about about 3m but can't see the tail - this thing was &^%$&*(read "VERY") huge! Oh, and there's a hippo yawning. HUHHHH??! about 10m away!

At this stage it appeared we had intruded on Hippoville's monthly council meeting and the whole district's members were attending. The channel is narrow with hardly any space (to me it seemed it like none) to turn around, only go forward. Moses calmly (I think) finds a wee dent of penny-sized space in the papyrus and makes a perfect 180 degree U-turn with the rear end passing only a couple of metres from an irritated council member. We exited quietly yet with some haste from here but not before Moses had pointed out both the Striated and Squacco Herons. Oh yes, I had forgotten - International Heron Day or something today as well!?!

Part 4: MORE suprises!

Bird "circus" on Lake Mburo Boat Trip

Getting to the boat provided a few birds at the lakeside including at least 30-40 Yellow Wagtails and a host of Village Weavers with a couple of lonely/lost Lesser Masked Weaver (photos of these landlubbers in the next episode).

This place is also a lovely campsite with hot water for showers provided by what seemed a constant burning 'donkey' and a local restaurant of wooden poles, open sides and on a raised deck. The menu on the blackboard had a small foot note "Meals will take 45min/1hour" - at least you knew how long it would take!

Anyway, very soon (with life jackets on board - these help when there are hippo's around??) we set off with our brilliant guide Moses who was also the skipper.

1st up was a
Pied Kingfisher who seemed intent on committing suicide by trying to swallow a fish the length of its body - only got some if-ish shots of that part but here it is still swallowing hard to get it down;

A few metres on - pair of Black-crowned Night Herons (my smile quite big at this stage already)
Hammering off the shots, Moses had started the motor again and almost instantly switched it back off "White-backed Night Heron!!" he hissed Very excitedly. True as nuts - a pair of them!!! Lifer for me, I had to recover from my shock quickly and start hammering away at the shutter - AND change memory card !!! and carry on again.

AAAAND, to crown it all - both Night Herons in one frame!!

As the last WB Night Heron flew further into the undergrowth I was speechless, and so was Moses! This was too much excitement in only 10-15min. While we're trying to converse through our stunted speech organs, Papyrus Gonolek and Greater Swamp Warbler called next to us - WTH!! This a damn bird circus?! We knew the calls and the birds, so set off further on the lake to allow our heart rates to return to normal-ish.

Part 3: Fish Eagles galore and more heart-racing sightings!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Uganda: Lake Mburo National Park (Part 1)

On 29th March we left Ruhengeri via the Cyanika border, the most SW border with Uganda, and proceeded over a rather wet and muddy mountain pass through Kibale and on to Mbarara. Filling up with fuel we realised the weather was a bit more favourable than that in the SW although the hint of rains remained. Another 50km brought us to the turnoff for Lake Mburo where the road to the gate (9km - allegedly) is dirt/mud/slush-puppy but not severe.

Getting to the gate at 3.15pm we were well beyond the missus' off-hand prediction we'll be in time for lunch at the lodge - still approximately 12-15km away. Anyway with not much time to spare (and potential rain looming) we 'rushed' on, stopping I think 3x for a bird (including a Green Sandpiper) or animals - by far the most frustrating way of driving through such a fantastic park.

Sod's law
, at the lodge the sun was out and it was lovely and warm. Here I got to take my 1st photos in the NP -a Spotted Bush Snake. Eventually we'd come across 4 just around the pool and the bar.

View from the pool, bar & restaurant was certainly nothing to complain about...

Some of the birds we did manage to see through the rush and at the lodge included Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Ruppell's Long-tailed Starling (zillions), Black-headed Gonolek, Double-toothed Barbet, Bare-faced Go-away Bird and Green Pigeon. Nightjars heard included Black-shouldered (very very similar call to Fiery-necked), Square-tailed (Mozambique) and Freckled.

Ruppell's Long-tailed Starling
Morning kicked off with a cacophony of nightjars, Go-away Birds, Doves, Starlings, Francolin and Spurfowl and some seriously loud Ross' Turaco (I always forget how loud these lovely looking twats are) This morning we were also booked for a 10am boat trip on Lake Mburo with a drive to park HQ of 45min (wildly under-estimated if you ask me). The missus realised that with me driving this was impossible as we would need minimum 2 hours given that she knows I wasn't planning on doing a repeat of the previous day's scan of the park.

We set off with more than 2hrs to get there but alas the last half hour had to be "rushed" again - at this stage I was seriously grinding my teeth. Before the rush some animals and birds did happen along including Slender Mongoose (a very hasty one - was he also on the way to/for the missus?),
Palm-nut Vulture (spotted by the chief spotter in the passenger seat aka the Missus) Some other sightings along the way;

Defassa's Waterbuck

Lesser-striped Swallow

A warthog trying its best to get rid of as much grass as possible at Park HQ

Part 2: The Lake Mburo Boat trip