Above the Clouds …

Mountains are often shrouded in cloud, rainforests wouldn’t be rainforests without the rain. Our stay in Bwindi was probably quite typically cloudy and rainy but the day we left was a gem. If you came here every day you could probably expect an experience like this about once every four hundred years.

The mountains in the background are the Virungas which mark the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are eight major volcanoes in the chain including Mount Nyiragongo, an active volcano that I climbed last year. See that account <HERE>. The night-time time-lapse is well worth a look.

From here it was a drive to Entebbe and a flight home.

Up in the Clouds …

Part of Bwindi Impenetrable forest is at high altitude (up to 2,607 metres or 8,550 feet). So despite the proximity to the equator temperatures are relatively pleasant. There are plenty of birds to be found but because of the dense forest finding them is sometimes challenging.

Handsome Francolin
Black-throated Apalis
Doherty’s Bush-shrike
Montane (AKA Black-tailed) Oriole
Great Blue Turaco
Crowned Hornbill
Cinnamon-breasted Bee-eater

We were also treated to a brief glimpse of a Black-fronted Duiker. These reputedly make good eating and are consequently very shy.

Black-fronted Duiker

Gorilla …

Guest post by Gayle …

The boys had seen both Mountain and Lowland Gorillas in the past so they went bird watching.

The Gorilla trackers met at the visitor centre where we were entertained by some enthusiastic dancing from some of the local ladies.

Scouts are sent out early to locate the gorillas. We were briefed and assigned to teams. We would be walking from one to eight hours.

I was in a party of eight. We were driven to our start point which was on the top of a ridge. And over the edge we went. It was steep and because of very recent rain it was slippery. There was no formed track, the guides were cutting a way for us.

Fortunately for me we found our gorillas after two hours. We were instructed to leave our back packs and food with the porters and make our way towards the gorillas. We would be with them for an hour but we were not to touch or disturb them.

The party of Mountain Gorillas consisted of two males, two females and two babies. The males slept or pretended to as we watched, while the females and young played in the trees until they were ready to join the others on the ground. It was an amazing experience being so close up with nothing between us. They did not seem to mind that we were there and moved among us without fear.

photo – GHD
photo – GHD
photo – GHD

Our guide made sure everyone got good photo opportunities and didn’t short change us on the time but it was soon time to head up hill. Now the hard work would start.

I was very glad that I had hired a porter. She was a lovely young lady in her mid twenties named Gertruda. She was very fit and enjoyed her work helping others to see gorillas in the forest. Gertruda carried my backpack and watched my every step down and up the steep and slippery mountain. We were very friendly by the end of the trek and both enjoyed the experience we shared together.

Gertruda and an exhausted but elated client

Seeing the gorillas is something you really must do when visiting Uganda. A booking is essential and hiring a porter makes the trekking less strenuous.

Back at the visitors centre you enjoy a celebration with your group of your achievement and a certificate is presented to each individual.

An amazing life-time experience in Bwindi National Park.

Impenetrable …

Time to say farewell to Kidepo National Park in the far north-east of Uganda and head for Bwindi in the far south-west. It was a two day drive spending another night in the Kampala Metropole.

Highlights en route included …

Shoebill

and standing with one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern. Oddly enough this was in a little town called Equator.

Bwindi National Park protects 331 square kilometres of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. For species diversity there is nowhere better in East Africa. The forest is home to more than 1,000 species of flowering plant, Mountain Gorillas, Chimpanzees, 118 other species of mammals and approximately 350 species of birds including a good proportion of the Albertine Rift Endemics.

We were staying on top of the mountain at Gorilla Mist Lodge.

Gorilla Mist Lodge, Bwindi

With Three-horned Chameleons for our neighbours.

Rwenzori Three-horned Chameleon male
Rwenzori Three-horned Chameleon female

The Karamojong …

Both Pian-Upe and Kidepo National Park are in Karamoja. They are wonderful places and without the protection that they offer to the wildlife Uganda and the world would be the poorer.

But these places were the homeland of the Karamojong, displacing them from the parks reduces the land available for them.

The Karamojong are traditionally cattle herding folk. They speak a Nilotic language as opposed to the Bantu languages of most Ugandans. This group of people include the Masai of Kenya not far to the east. The quest for pasture and water in an unfenced country has led to clashes with their neighbours. Even now cattle raiding is not unknown. As the Amin era descended into chaos they helped themselves to rifles and Karamoja became unsafe to visit.

Even now the Australian Government’s Smartraveller Website has this to say …

Karamoja region, reconsider your need to travel

Think seriously about whether you need to travel here due to the high level of risk. If you do travel, do your research and take a range of extra safety precautions, including having contingency plans. Check that your travel insurer will cover you.

Kidepo would be out of the question …

Within 50 kilometres of the border with South Sudan, do not travel

The UK’s travel advisory is more moderate …

Inter-communal violence happens in north-east Uganda (sometimes referred to as the Karamoja region) as well as occasional attacks on security forces. Foreigners are not usually the target of the violence but you should remain vigilant and exercise caution if travelling in the region.

It does advise extra caution near the Sudanese border.

The Karamojong have, in the main, been disarmed and tourists are accompanied by armed rangers in the parks. We were advised not to take photographs of cattle, it could happen that the owner is both suspicious and superstitious and might respond violently.

After years languishing behind the rest of Uganda economic development is bringing education, healthcare and new opportunities to the region.

We visited a Karamojong settlement near Kidepo housing people that had been displaced from the park. We were made to feel very welcome. We were shown the interior of a traditional house, shown how sorghum is ground to make flour, treated to a dance which we were invited to join and offered handicrafts to buy.

A Bird or Two …

The birding in Kidepo was rich. Bird photography snatched on the run could never do it justice but here are a few of the more cooperative species.

Clapperton’s Francolin
African Wattled Lapwing
Hoopoe
Dark Chanting Goshawk
Stone Partridge

To describe the Stone Partridge as a cooperative species is quite a stretch but I was particularly lucky with this group. It would be nice to improve on this shot but it would require the investment of quite a lot of time.

Flappet Lark
Abyssinian Roller
Grey-backed Fiscal

One-o-clock …

We arrived at the Kidepo River at about noon. Wandered around a bit, ate our lunch. At one-o-clock we encountered a pair of monkeys jumping about in the riverside trees.

Tantalus Monkey

Dr Mark Antos, our primate specialist, was most excited. It was imperative that we get good notes and if possible good photographs. These objectives did not align with the monkeys. One fled. The other one, a male, presented itself in harsh light and always partially obscured. I selected this photo from 27 equally bad alternatives because it is possible to see the tail tip, the back of the left hand and the scrotum.

The tail tip is light grey as is the back of the hand. The scrotum is an adorable shade of blue. This distinguishes this Tantalus Monkey from the more common and widespread Vervet. It also narrows the field to the Sudanese subspecies Chlorocebus tantalus marrensis.

One-o-clock Jump was created by Count Basie and other members of his band in 1937 and they used it to close their performances for the next fifty years. Its first performance was on radio. The name was conferred in a hurry because the radio announcer though the original title unsuitable for the delicate ears of the American public. Legend has it that Basie looked up at the studio clock and said the first thing that came to mind. Until then the band had called it Blue Balls.

The Kidepo River …

From the camp in the Kidepo National Park it’s a full day out to explore the Kidepo Valley and not a great day for large mammals because of the lack of water. It is, however, a great place for birds.

We reached the river itself at about midday. Not a drop of water to be seen.

Kidepo River

When the river does run it is fast and furious but it subsides and becomes safe to cross in just a couple of hours.

Along the way we’d seen some very nice birds including Jackson’s Hornbill which has a very restricted range. Females have a black bill. This is the male …

Jackson’s Hornbill

We also came across a fine chameleon

Chameleon

and some wild Desert Rose in flower. You can buy these as garden plants in Australia.

Desert Rose, Adenium obesum

Beyond the river the road leads into South Sudan. We saw the odd truck coming from across the border. Just to remind us of the recent troubles one was sporting bullet holes in the windscreen.

Tony, Prossy and Zachariah

Prossy was a keen birder and became a guide. Tony is a former school teacher and keen birder and became a driver. They are first and foremost birders. I think this makes an important difference to their enthusiasm in the field. We’d now been together for some days and it really was a case of birding with good friends. My prior impression of Prossy as a bit severe had completely melted, I suspect that’s just her ploy to get new clients under control! Zachariah on the right is a local ranger from the park, a man brimming with self confidence.

The road to the springs runs along the border, indeed according to my GPS this next photograph was taken about 150 metres inside South Sudan.

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

The hot springs is a small and permanent source of water just a few metres from the border post. In such an arid part of the world it seemed odd to be hearing frogs and seeing dragonflies.

dragonfly

And let me tantalise you with one more photograph which I will have more to say about in due course …

Vulture …

East Africa has seven species of vulture. They are  members of the Accipitridae the family that includes eagles, buzzards, hawks and some of the kites. They are united by the fact that they live mainly on carrion but they are not necessarily each others closest relatives within the family. They are unrelated to the New World Vultures and Condors that evolved separately in the Americas to look quite similar.

Like a lot of heavy birds in warm climates they prefer to wait until the sun has cooked up a few thermals before they take to the wing. Then it’s time to hunt for the day’s meal which they find by sight.

Lappet-faced Vulture waiting for the thermals

It’s not difficult for a human to find dead animals in the savanna – just watch the vultures. Initially they all seem to be going the same way. As you get closer they’re converging from all points of the compass.

Hooded Vulture

There were more than fifty vultures of five different species in this assembly in Kidepo National Park.

Vultures – Kidepo National Park, Uganda

And then the squabbling begins …

Lappet-faced Vultures
White-headed Vulture in the centre

As they get their fill they lumber off.

African White-backed Vulture
Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture