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.

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.

Woodswallows …

I was just heading off to one of my favourite birding spots, Maryborough sewage treatment plant when I noticed that my driveway was busy with woodswallows. So I changed my plan and grabbed the camera.

These birds are summer visitors and seem to always be on the move. There are plenty about this year probably because of the dry conditions further north. Flocks can be huge, White-browed Woodswallows tend to be the most numerous often accompanied by their masked cousins. They breed in mixed colonies.

The adult males of both species are beautifully marked. The youngsters and females are also attractive but in more muted tones – designer pastels.

White-browed Woodswallow adult male
White-browed Woodswallow
Masked Woodswallow adult male
Masked Woodswallow

A Byronic Garden …

In Byron I’m staying at a friend’s house. Carole has the most amazing Grevillias, Callistemons and red pom-pommy things …

Scaly-breasted Lorikeet
Noisy Miner
Blue-faced Honeyeater
Rainbow Lorikeet

Birdlife Australia have a very handy pdf on the birds and birding spots for Byron Shire. The bird watcher should google “Birds of Byron Bay – Birdlife Australia”.

First cuckoo of spring …

On a day that feels nothing like spring, bleak, cold windy and wet, snowfalls down to 600 metres …

Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo

Birdlife tells us …

It usually parasitises bird species that build dome nests such as fairy-wrens and thornbills, but may also parasitise the open cup nests of other species, such as the White-fronted Chat.

Around here that means the Superb Fairywrens need to look out.

Sea Birds of Svalbard …

Over winter Svalbard is pretty much a bird free zone. The only land bird you are likely to encounter is the Ptarmigan and the sea birds leave their nesting colonies and head out to sea. Come the spring the birds return, each to their preferred habitat.

The birds that dominate the inshore waters are the Auks.

The most numerous representative of the group is the Little Auk of which there are more than a million pairs.

Little Auk

These guys nest in scree on fairly step slopes not necessarily at the edge of the sea. The other common Auks are Brünnich’s Guillemot and the Black Guillemot. These both favour cliff ledges for their nesting sites.

Take a closer look …

Auks propel themselves under water with their wings. Water is 784 times more dense than air. To be efficient in water wings need to be stiffer and smaller. Auks do not fly well, Brünnich’s Guillemot has the highest wing loading and energy cost for flight of any bird. The ability to catch fish comes at a price. Nonetheless they make repeated flights to and from the sea to feed their young during the breeding season.For more detailed information see <HERE>.

Brünnich’s Guillemot

This must be close to the limit of what is possible for a dual purpose wing. The now extinct Great Auk was flightless.

Brünnich’s Guillemot

Sitting on an ice floe the Guillemots look remarkably like penguins. It is likely that the ancestor of penguins was rather like an auk. Once the species crossed the boundary and became flightless the body size could increase and the wing could become relatively smaller, stiffer and more flipper-like. Coexistence with a predator like the Arctic Fox presents a challenge that Penguins don’t need to face. Access to cliff faces is much easier if you can fly.

The next most common auk is the Black Guillemot distinguished by the white wing flash and bright red feet, very handsome …

Black Guillemot

Puffins are present in small numbers …

Atlantic Puffin

Common Guillemots are also said to occur but we did not encounter any.

The Northern Fulmar is a tubenose (Procellariiform) which glides almost effortlessly through the air and uses its momentum to plunge to shallow depths after its food. Almost the exact opposite strategy to the auks.

Northern Fulmar

Gulls and Skuas are also far more accomplished in the air than auks. The Black-legged Kittiwake is the most numerous gull. Like the guillemots it nests on steep cliffs usually at the higher levels.

Kittiwake

The commonest large gull is the Glaucous Gull. This one is getting stuck into a guillemot carcass.

Glaucous Gull

They are common around nesting cliffs where they take eggs and young and there always seems to be one around a Polar Bear hoping to share in the spoils. They don’t get it all their own way though …

Great Skua attacking a Glaucous Gull

The Great Skua has a similar diet and is even bigger and nastier than the gulls. It is mostly found around the nesting cliffs.

It has a smaller and more aerobatic cousin, the Arctic Skua, that is a specialist kleptoparasite. It harasses other seabirds until they disgorge the food they are carrying back to their young. The skua then catches it in mid-air. You can experience what it’s like for their victims by venturing near their nest.

Arctic Skua

Oslo …

Just one last day and what better way to spend it than birding with Simon Rix around Oslo.

Off we went to the county of Hedmark and we put together a nice list of birds. I caught up with some old friends and met some brand new ones. It was nice to see the Yellow Hammer, “A little bit of bread and no cheese” which used to be common in England but is now in serious decline. I’ve not seen it at all during recent visits. It was also nice to see the colourful Common Teal and Goldeneye. A distant Black-throated Diver also turned up.

A Red Squirrel and a Red Fox made separate and very welcome appearances. You could put your foot in plenty of evidence of Moose but you are lucky to see them during the day.

A lifer is always a big thrill. Black Woodpecker and Slavonian Grebe made their very first appearance in my binoculars but the star of the show was the Great Grey Owl.

Great Grey Owl

Simon showed me this female nesting in an abandoned Common Buzzard nest. They are not hole nesters like most other owls. Old raptor nests are not numerous and some success has been had with artificial nesting platforms.

These owls feed mostly on rodents and only breed successfully when rodents are abundant.

Her behaviour suggested that her eggs had just hatched.

Norway has extensive forest cover. Most of it is commercially harvested. Forestry practice has become a bit more bird friendly in recent years, instead of clear felling a few habitat trees are being left. This has helped some species considerably including the Great Grey Owl. Other beneficiaries are the many small birds that breed in woodpecker holes.

Simon is a real pro. If you are passing through Oslo a day out with him should be first item on the agenda. You can contact him through his website … Oslobirder. Just click it.

Simon Rix