Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Off the beaten track in Uganda (a bit).

 I’ve just got back from a Naturetrek trip to Uganda. I like Naturetrek for two reasons – they include the airfare in the price and most of their clientele are even older and at just as amateur as I am.

First up was a stonking great Shoebill

Aah! On to an overnight in a superb lakeside lodge in QE Park, then on to a forest lodge in the Kibale forest. All good, with time to get to grips with some East African, and a sprinkling of West African birds. Uganda is on the African Rift Valley and so has a good selection of birds from the East and West, not to mention about 40 Albertine Rift endemics, but they’ll have to wait for another trip. Here’s a common roadside bird to be getting on with:

Grey-headed Kingfisher

One afternoon we were walking along the forest road in Kibale with our excellent guide Emmy Gongo. He goes quiet, leans forward, frowns and says Gosh! All is quiet. Then he just says – Yes! He had just heard a displaying Green-breasted Pitta somewhere out there in the forest. Peter and David with their sandals on were less than keen but Dave and I follow Emmy as he dives in to the tangled undergrowth. A few yards in and we listen. I can just make out a faint thrumming “prrrp”. Emmy goes to move the van up leaving me to lead Dave, who had yet to hear anything, further in towards the faint intermittent sound. A little later and Emmy arrives back and we continue down to a muddy valley and up a ridge. We’re getting closer, and despite crashing through the thick understory, we can hear the sound of the wings being fluttered in the display when we stop. Peering around and getting closer still, but then it all goes quiet – the Pitta saw us first. We wait and the sound has moved along the ridge. More scrambling and we’re close again. Remarkably Emmy spots our tiny target through the multitude of plants. Dave leans down first and gets his view, then I lie down flat and peer through the branches. There’s a red belly with dark wings and diagonal bright silvery-blue patches, the birds back end visible sitting on a horizontal twig. That thrumming noise again and the birds head with dark centre stripe flutters up briefly into view, but then all goes quiet. When we final get back to the road Peter and Dave accept our manfully suppressed elation with fortitude, after all it was hell in the there. How did Emmy hear that small bird’s wings beating a quarter of a mile away from the road?

Some of our party then travelled onwards to Misindi in NW Uganda, an extension to the main trip. First day we visit the famous Royal Mile, a dead straight mile long avenue cut through thick forest and lined with magnificent tall mahogany, fig and ironwood trees. Raymond was our local guide, with Emmy able to sit back at least for a while. However in the afternoon we here a Buff-spotted Flufftail giving its rather odd drawn-out hoot:
  XC94051 Alan Collett recording from S Africa on xeno-canto

Raymond had been birding the Royal Mile for 15 years and had only seen a Buff-spotted Flufftail twice. We shrugged and moved on, but a little later a White-spotted Flufftail tooted: 
Marcell Claassen recording from Bwindi, Uganda on xeno-canto

These are slightly easier skulkers so into the bushes we went. It kept giving the occasional call so we lined up at the end of a path and Emmy did a flanking manoeuvre and started calling from across to the left. After a good five minutes a tiny dark movement to the right of the path, then nothing. Emmy continued his vocal gymnastics and after another five minutes out strides a rather beautiful White-spotted Flufftail and quickly crosses the open ground just 15 yds away.

Stunning – Emmy returns and joins the celebration. Moving back towards the main drag we hear the Buff-spotted again – got to give it a go. We set-up on a different path – Emmy off to the left doing his Buff-spot  imitation. Nothing, a small movement of leaves, another call, nothing. More nothing for another few long minutes, then out struts a Buff-spotted Flufftail, slightly less rushed perhaps as it crosses the path, but at a similar distance. Amazing! A repeat performance, a two Flufftail day, upfront and out there in broad daylight.

Wot, no photos of the megas?

No, so have a few of the others ….

Square-tailed Nightjar

African Finfoot

Slender-billed Weaver for lunch

Abyssinian Ground-Hornbill

Thanks to xeno-canto for sound recordings

Bob Vaughan, March 2013

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed the blog. Glad you had a great trip and enjoyed those amazing birds so much. As you saw, Emmy is an incredibly talented birder (and guide and driver). When you want to go back for the Albertine Rift Endemics or to book any birding trip with Emmy in Uganda, Rwanda or elsewhere in East Africa please contact Tinkerbird Tours - email ( - based in Uganda and UK.