Kidepo …

our pop-top safari vehicle at the gate of Kidepo N P

Kidepo National Park is located in the far north-east of Uganda. The border with South Sudan forms the northern border of the park, the border with Kenya is to the east. The park covers 1,442km2 and includes the valleys of the Kidepo and Narus rivers. The Kidepo is seasonal, the Narus shrinks to a chain of pools in the dry times but always holds some water to sustain wildlife.

Palms are common along the Kidepo river banks elsewhere it is savanna. The African Sausage tree is well represented and Whistling Thorn is also common,

Kigelia africana

It is a magnificent place to watch large mammals …

 

and heaven for the bird watcher …

Abyssinian Roller

We have three days here but one of the first things I must do is attend to my arm.

Parting With Pian Upe …

Pian Upe

I think the future for Pian Upe is bright. Continued recovery of the wildlife, some minor upgrades to accommodation and roads could see this become a major tourist destination. The landscape is utterly beautiful. For the moment though this is not the place for close approach to hordes of large mammals.

But it certainly has its charm …

Ostrich

If any one can identify these skinks please drop me a comment …

Update … I am advised that both these photos are of the same species, the African Five-lined Skink aka Rainbow Skink, Trachylepis quinquetaeniata. The one with the yellow lips is the male the more drab one is the female. My thanks to Moreen Uwimbabazi for tracking them down.

 

Acacia …

And whilst we are in Pian Upe, sheltering from the rain and contemplating the names of things. What was the first Acacia ever described? While you’re thinking about that let me introduce you to the Whistling Thorn. It is common in Pian Upe.

Whistling Thorn Vachellia drepanolobium

Otherwise known as Vachellia drepanolobium and an excellent example of a myrmecophyte. That swelling is provided by the plant as housing for the ants you see in the photo. They in turn provide the plant with some protection from browsing herbivores, creatures that have evolved to disregard those spines. Symbiosis between ants and plants has arisen in several groups of plants throughout the tropics and often involves the provision of nectar as ant food as well as living spaces or domatia.

The first Acacia formally described was Acacia nilotica Linnaeus 1773 although the name Acacia was borrowed from an English gardener Phillip Miller who’d used it in 1754. He had borrowed it from Pedanius Dioscorides who had used  the Greek word for thorny ἀκακία (akakia) to describe a tree with medicinal uses in his book Materia Medica dating from the first century AD. Because it was the first described the African nilotica became the type species of the genus Acacia.

Acacias were subsequently described throughout the tropics, in South America and in Australia where it has become the national floral emblem …

Here is the wattle

Emblem of our land

you can stick it in a bottle

or hold it in you hand … Monty Python (Bruce’s sketch).

In fact the genus got to about 1,400 species worth. Science being a tireless quest for an ever more complicated way of simplifying stuff found that there were three groups or subgenera included and it was proposed that the genus be split. Since Acacia was first described in Africa it would be supposed that Africa would hang on to that particular name. The Australians fell sobbing on the ground, “You can’t do that to our national emblem”, they cried.

And so it came to pass that Africa has had to learn a couple of new genus names. The thorny Acacias of Africa, like the myrmacophytic drepanolobium have become Vachellia while thorn deficient ones have become Senegalia. The South Americans formerly known as Acacia are likely to end up in two entirely new genera neither of them named Princia.

What’s in a name?

In Pian Upe we frequently encountered the Isabelline Wheatear. This migrates between Europe and Africa, it likes open country where it’s often found sitting on a bit of mud or dung or a low branch from which it chases insects. Less common is the Isabelline Shrike.

Isabelline Wheatear

Isabelline is a colour.

There are similar words in French, German, Italian and Spanish and although the truth is lost in the fog of time there is a folk etymology in all these cases that link the word to Isabella l of Castile and her beloved Ferdinand II of Aragon. They gave siege to Granada in April 1491. Isabella, it is alleged, declared that she would not change her underwear until Granada fell. It took 8 months.

And what, pray, does Wheatear have to do with a cereal crop?

Nothing at all. It comes from 16th century English, a period when everyone spoke like pirates. Wheat = white, Ear is a contraction of Earse = arse. When they take flight the Wheatears show a prominent white rump.

 

Pian Upe …

This is the second largest wildlife protected area in Uganda after Murchison Falls National Park. It is a game reserve but we were told of plans to raise its status to National Park in the future.

It covers 2,788 square kilometers of savanna and includes some very impressive hills. Like all of Uganda’s parks and forests it suffered greatly during the lawless times of civil war. The Uganda Parks Travel Guide would have you believe that lions, elephants, black rhinos and giraffes are all to be found here but in truth they were locally extinguished years ago. The reintroduction of some of these may be on the cards.

On the positive side though this is the only place in Uganda where Roan Antelope have survived and it’s a great spot for the bird watcher.

We had two nights in Pian Upe in very comfortable safari tent style accommodation and were magnificently fed by the most obliging chef in Africa. The first night brought a thunder-storm and torrential rain, the tent, I am pleased to say, was waterproof. The light before dawn was superb …

Day break at Pian Upe

Game drives were the order of the day made all the more exciting by the effect of the rain on the black soil tracks.

The birding was a great success. Our quest for game less so. Distant views of Roan were had but all the game animals were extremely shy presumably because of far lower visitor numbers when compared to Murchison Falls where the animals are habituated to vehicular traffic. Additionally, the grassland seems less vigorously managed at Pian Upe, the grass was very long and there was no evidence of any recent burning.

Silverbird
Bronze-tailed Starling
Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver
African Fish Eagle
Dark Chanting-Goshawk
Bateleur

Wet black soil is a test for the four-wheel driver and his vehicle. Our driver Tony just happened to be a keen birder. This was a real bonus because, although Prossy the professional had to correct his diagnoses on the odd occasion, his extra pair of eyes meant that birds had little chance of going undetected.

His greatest coup was the Karamoja Apalis. This is a bird that has broken many a heart. Tony bogged the car. Just metres from a solid road next to a small Vachellia tree. It would move a little backwards, it would move a little forward, it could slowly be turned a few degrees, there was hope that it would gain sufficient traction to ride over a small mound onto the road, there was the fear that it might get inextricably bogged before that was achieved. Meanwhile his passengers had nothing better to do than watch the little bird in the little tree. We let him have a look too. It was a tick for him. Even the vehicle was inspired. It rode triumphantly onto the road.

There was more rain in store for us and proceedings for the day were curtailed …

Hartebeest

Why the long face? Because we’re soaking wet, you fool.

The red spots on my left forearm had grown bigger and painful. They were surrounded by hard red swelling and the centres showed signs of pus formation. Something would soon need to be done about these.

A Distrurbance in the Force …

There ensued two days of road travel. So much of Ugandan life plays out beside the roads that this provides remarkable insight. The locals I’m sure are as fond of having cameras waved in their faces as I would be – the result is a contest between any sensitivity one has and the temptation to capture the rich and exotic otherness of Africa. The unease created probably explains why I don’t go in for street photography in Oz either.

Our destination on day one was Kampala and the perfectly international Metropole Hotel. No distrurbances tolerated here.

A Nile Special, some freshly roasted ground-nuts lightly flavoured with garlic and a wide choice of cuisine, very gracious service. I recommend it highly.

The following morning we caught up with our favorite bird guide Prossy Nanyombi. She had shown us the Shoebill and Papyrus Gonolek the previous year and left us with a lasting impression of a somewhat stern but capable professionalism. We’d contacted Prossy first when we were planning the trip and she’d put us in contact with Avian Safaris, one of several companies that she does some work for. We were soon on the road, Tony at the wheel.

Kampala is simply krazy. And in the rain even more so. Its population is somewhere in the vicinity 2 million. The road rules are as much a puzzle to me as Australian Rules Football would be to a Boda Boda rider although the results are very similar …

Kampala has been declared the most fun, friendly, and affordable capital in East Africa. If you are going to spend any time there you should probably  learn why not to wear yellow or light blue (especially at election time). Yes there are elections, it’s just not how they choose their presidents. These and other important facts can be found <HERE>.

The traffic is, and there’s nothing you can do about that. Meditate. And eventually it goes away, left behind, waiting for your return!

The city gives way to towns and then villages …

Towards sun down and under a threatening sky we arrived at Pian Upe. It’s a game reserve rather than a National Park. It’s in the north-east of Uganda not far from the Kenya Border. It’s beautiful and it’s nothing like Budongo.

Moving on …

All good things come to an end.

As our stay at Budongo reaches its conclusion. It’s time to thank the Field Station Director Geoffrey Muhanguzi for his hospitality and, as always, his wisdom. Also to say thank you to Moreen Uwimbabazi for allowing us to assist in her bird banding project and congratulate her and her team Patrick Arua and Godfrey Andrua on their progress.

The Royal Mile, so called because it was indeed a favorite spot of Ugandan Kings, is one of Africa’s best forest birding spots. It is possible for a visiting birder to buy a permit and stroll under the majestic trees. I believe the fee has to be paid in Kampala. The best way forward is to contact Raymond in advance, he lives near the gate and knows the place backwards. The numbers I have for him are 0777 319 865 or 0752 930 065. You can rely on him to give clear instruction.

Raymond

He is the man who can find you your Chocolate backed Kingfisher.

Chocolate-backed Kingfisher

But that only takes you as far as this sign …

and paradise is on the other side of it. Tourism is specifically forbidden by the project’s charter, to pass Go you must be sponsored by your university or another entity.

It was during my last day or so at Budongo that I became increasingly aware of some red and itchy spots on my left arm.