Another world, beautiful one day perfect the next, where education is so lacking that beer is spelt XXXX and the premier can’t even pronounce her own name. But beautiful nonetheless, even in the rain. First priority in South East Queensland was the endemic Black-breasted Buttonquail. I recruited expert help in the form of Roy Sonnenberg, bird guide extraordinaire. We found many good things …
and not all were birds …
but we did not find the Buttonquail. As they feed they clear away the leaf litter leaving cleared circular areas called platelets. Roy regaled me with tales of the many occasions he had watched them at work rapidly churning out platelet after platelet. He found me excellent examples of platelets. The Buttonquails themselves were not to be found.
The lovely Gayle and I are soon to embark on a road trip and I used the weekend to iron out any problems with the camper trailer which has recently undergone some modifications. Terrick Terrick National Park is a couple of hours drive from home. It’s 65km north of Bendigo, 225km north-west of Melbourne.
The park protects four quite heavily wooded blocks, the two eastern blocks include some impressive granite outcrops while the western blocks are home to a rapidly recovering forest of Callitris pines. The surrounding grasslands were lightly grazed sheep country in the past, the land management favoured the rare and endangered Plains Wanderer. Indeed it was their Victorian stronghold. A patchwork of old farms has been added to the park for its protection. Despite this the odd one still turns up occasionally.
The campsite is at the foot of Mt Terrick Terrick which is probably the most visited feature of the park. In its great wisdom Parks Vic put it on a slope that enjoys a flash flood every time it rains, this in a park where 75% of the terrain is flat. They do provide a composting toilet which is very pleasant after cleaning which I think happens sometime in June. Do remember to take your own toilet paper.
The weather forecast was dire but it was fine when I arrived and I explored the granite boulders with camera in hand.
But before sunset the cloud rolled in rapidly and a rainy night followed. The following morning was misty and somewhat atmospheric …
Some good birds turn up in the Terricks but on this occasion I encountered nothing out of the ordinary. Still, Galahs and Hooded Robins are always good to see.
Then it was a case of packing a wet tent and heading for another spot – the Barmah National Park.
The strip of coast running from Melbourne west along Victoria’s coast is both splendid and accessible. I am particularly fond of Port Fairy at the western end but lets not get parochial. Anglesea and Aireys Inlet also have their assets a major one being Margaret Lacey. She has recently produced a very beautiful book on the birds her of patch. The photography is superb.
The region has a variety of habitats and Margaret gives the reader very useful information on where to find them all. You should buy the book! It’s well worth the $55. You can get it <HERE>. Mention this page and the postage will be free. Actually the postage is free.
Anyway, while I was there I ran around trying to emulate her …
Birds with limited distribution are always very special. The Rufous Bristlebird is only found along a coastal strip from Torquay west to the mouth of the River Murray in South Australia (except around Port Fairy!) It is a denizen of coastal heath and dense stands of Coast Wattle. It’s a skulker and can be very elusive. I have seen it in varying places but the success rate at Aireys Inlet is exceptional. Look for it on the footpaths to the west of the lighthouse early or late in the day.
Birds of prey make their living in different ways; Kestrels are fond of mice, Peregrines are fond of pigeons, Brown Falcons are fond of snakes. Hunting technique are appropriate to the creatures hunted.
Harriers go about their business fairly low over open country with wings upswept. In Australia we have a couple of members of the guild, Swamp Harrier and Spotted Harrier. One prefers wetter habitats the other drier habitats.
The dry plains around my home seem ideal for Spotted Harrier but for all that they are only occasional visitors. I was looking for quail when I encountered this one, so was he probably.
When looking for mice in the grass slow flight is an advantage. Kestrels and Black-shouldered Kites can hover. They are both smaller birds, there is only so much energy in a mouse and hovering is expensive. The equation works for the small birds but hovering is too expensive for harriers to undertake except very briefly.
So slow flight it is. The upswept wings contribute to lateral stability, very helpful when flying close to stall speeds. If a wing stalls it drops relative to the other wing and the bird as a whole side slips to the affected side. Under these circumstances the lower wing develops more lift than the upper wing and tends to restore the bird to level flight (at a slightly lower altitude).
The upward angulation of the wings is called dihedral and it can be seen in this photo of our gliding harrier …
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.
We were also treated to a brief glimpse of a Black-fronted Duiker. These reputedly make good eating and are consequently very shy.
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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 …
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.
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.
He is the man who can find you your 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.