Tuesday, January 17, 2017

What will I do today?

Today - Tuesday - we awoke with the 0600 alarm ready for a busy day (for Jenny at least) at Katuuso Primary School.  No power so no coffee to start the day. 

The kids aren’t due for another 3 weeks but most of the teachers (new and old) are busy getting ready for the new year and doing various professional development courses.  Jenny has four training sessions planned and they were all scheduled for tomorrow.  Today she was going to be busy getting this all ready.  We were nearly at the school and I said “What will I do today?”  

I had three choices: 
(i) continue to work on learning to write iPhone/iPad apps, 
(ii) pull together some material for a bird brochure for our friends at Kipling Lodge (to take advantage of their offer of a couple of days free accommodation) or 
(iii) revise the bird family models for the bird book/app project I’ve been working on for the last 5 years.

We arrived to find the head teacher Robert in a flap.  He’d asked our office in Kampala to print 800 exam papers that our kids had done late last year.  The new teachers will be using them to practice marking exams.  Unfortunately Robert had forgotten to ask the office staff to white-out the student names on the originals - against Education Department rules - so he was planning on using gallons of liquid paper to blank out the names.  

“I’ll do it” I said.  Jenny suggested a better solution would be to paste strips of colored paper over the names.  That’s what I did nearly all day with help from Jenny and a couple of other people who wandered into the office.

So who knows what I will be doing tomorrow.  You should never plan too far ahead in Africa!

On a birding note, I also said as we were driving to work “We haven’t seen Scaly Francolin along the road for several months.  It would be nice to get them for 2017”.  Ten minutes later a large bird that clearly found flying difficult did a controlled crash onto the road in front of the car - a Scaly Francolin!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Southern Citril in Uganda

Formerly considered to be a single species the African Citril is now treated as three species - African, Western and Southern.  The Western Citril is found throughout Uganda but the other two are not normally shown to be present here.  I am familiar with the Western Citril as it occurs near our house west of Kampala and was in our garden in Bukoba, Tanzania.

Western Citril (male) from Bukoba, Tanzania
One of the first birds I saw when wandering the grounds of Sipi River Lodge, Mount Elgon Highlands was a Citril - but quite different to the Western Citril.  It was grey rather than black-faced, had a weak, not prominent yellow supercilium and had heavily streaked underparts.  It clearly matched the Southern Citril.  I could find no reference to this species in Uganda so took hundreds of photos to support my claim for a new country species.

Male Southern Citril - Sipi River Lodge, Jan 2017

Male Southern Citril - Sipi River Lodge, Jan 2017

Female Southern Citril - Sipi River Lodge, Jan 2017
Britton's "Birds of East Africa" (1980) considered the original lumped species and stated that ssp. brittoni is "endemic to W Kenya at 1300-2800 m, from Siaya (several localities), Kakamega and Nandi north to Mt Elgon ...".  

It seems reasonable to me that a bird found on Mt. Elgon on the Kenya side would be likely to occur on the Uganda side of the mountain.  

Further research at home led me to a report in the African Bird Club Bulletin 18.2 which states "Also new for the country is Southern Citril Serinus hypostictus, of which at least ten were seen on the slopes of Mount Elgon at Sipi on 5–7 April 2010".

So, my birds are not the first but confirmation that Southern Citril (Crithagra hyposticta brittoni) does occur in Uganda at least near Sipi and the Mount Elgon NP research centre.  It may also occur in the far south west near Bwindi according to one correspondent - Akankwasa Hilary.

Safari - Mount Elgon highlands

From The Nile above Lake Victoria we headed north-east to Sipi village adjacent to Mount Elgon National Park.  What is supposed to be an easy 3 1/2 hour trip took us 5 hours as probably 80% of the roads were being ripped up for resurfacing or had more potholes than tarmac.  Jenny took lots of photos showing some of the conditions we faced on the road.  It will be a great drive in a few months when all is finished.

Bone shaking road humps come in about 5 different flavors.

We had this for 30-40 km.

If it wasn't potholes it was treacherous cliffs where the road edge was eroded.

Then there was the chaos of roadworks for another 50 km.

Mount Elgon is the 8th highest peak in Africa at 4,321 m - not quite high enough for snow apparently.  It is an extinct volcano and has the largest base of any volcano in the world.  It spans the border with Kenya and national parks from both countries share the mountain.  Forest covers the lower levels and they give way to bamboo at around 2,500 m then heathland at 3,000 m and finally moorland at 3,500 m.  A typical summit climb and return takes 4-7 days depending on the route.

We stayed at Sipi River Lodge (http://www.sipiriverlodge.com) which was set on the bank of the Sipi River and below the famous Sipi Falls.  Very leafy and full of birds.  We stayed in a comfortable banda with shared bathroom facilities.  Mossies are not a problem here so no bed net for the first time in 3 months.  The food was great but too much!

Sipi River Lodge from the waterfall.  Our banda is hidden in the trees on the right.

We had three nights and two full days and spent the first in the national park.  We asked about trail walking for birds and were assigned a compulsory guide - Alex.  Alex was excellent (as all the guides have been so far).  We walked 7 km in about 6 hours.  It’s normally a 2-3 hour walk but Alex was delighted to have birders along and we took our time.  Lots of up, up, up then down, down, down stretched some dormant leg muscles.  We reached the beginning of the bamboo zone.  On the walk I recorded some 58 species including 14 lifers.  I probably missed another 4-5 lifers that Alex saw or heard but I couldn’t get onto.

Northern Double-collared Sunbird

Grey-throated Barbet

Jenny and guide Alex at the top of the forest zone.

On the second day we rested up in the morning and I took lots of photos of birds in the lodge gardens.  In the afternoon we went on a three hour walk up to the second of three Sipi Falls, then through villages and gardens/farms to the main road where we bought some of the famous Sipi district arabica coffee.  The hotel-provided guide Julius was chatty and we learned a lot about village life.  He also found two new chameleons for my photo collection (http://bukobasteve.blogspot.ug/2017/01/more-chameleons.html).

The first (lowest) section of Sipi Falls

A nice new house waiting for the finishing mud outer wall.

Sipi Village

Collecting water and washing clothes at the community tap.
Giraffe are rare at this altitude but this one was across the road from our lodge.

Rock Martin roosting near the waterfall.
See https://www.flickr.com/photos/bukoba_steve/albums/72157675285417384 for more birds from here and Kipling Lodge

We had planned to drive straight home from Sipi but the roadworks put us off so we broke the journey with an extra, uneventful night in a Jinja guesthouse then had an easy 3 hour drive home from there.  

Today is Thursday and we woke to no power.  It came back on about 0900 so we didn’t have to wait too long for morning coffee (Sipi arabica of course).  Jenny is preparing for work resuming tomorrow and I’m writing this blog and sorting out photos - absolutely not driving anywhere today!


Sipi Lodge and village: 

Southern Citril, Slender-billed Starling, Fan-tailed Raven

Mount Elgon NP: 

Northern Double-collared Sunbird, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-crowned Canary, Olive-breasted Greenbul, Grey Apalis, Stuhlmann’s Starling, Grey-throated Barbet, Montane Nightjar, Black-billed Weaver, Abyssinian Crimsonwing, White-headed Wood Hoopoe, Brown-capped Weaver, Abyssinian Ground Thrush, Black-faced Rufous Warbler

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Safari - The Victoria Nile

Our last trip away before work resumes on the 13th January saw us head across towards Jinja - east of Kampala,  Jinja is widely known as the Source of The Nile because it is where the river that is called The Nile emerges from Lake Victoria.  Having lived in Kagera, Tanzania we know that Lake Victoria is simply a wide, flat section of the river and that the largest river flowing into The Nile is the Kagera which starts way up in the mountains of Rwanda or Burundi.  Which of these countries has the most remote stream flowing into the Kagera is the only debate about the true source of the Nile.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nile for an excellent summary of the true situation.

We stayed for two nights at Kipling Lodge (https://web.facebook.com/thekiplinglodge/) some 25 km downstream from Jinja.  This is a new, small lodge run by a Belgian/French couple and their great local staff.  One of the nicest places we have stayed anywhere with stunning views, a bird-filled garden, a pool and great food.  Only 3 hours easy drive from home so I expect we will stay there again.

Black-and-white Mannikin

Brimstone Canary

Black-headed Gonolek

Eastern Plantain-eater

Speckled Mousebird

Red-chested Sunbird

Red-chested Sunbird - note missing tail streamers!

While there we didn’t do much.  I wandered the garden with binoculars and camera in hand.  Jenny had several swims.  We drove into Jinja but didn’t stay long.  It is a hybrid tourist/industrial town and has some of the worst potholed roads we have seen.  We stopped in the centre of town to get a couple of photos printed.  I parked and waited for Jenny.  A chap came to the window and told me I had to pay to park and gave me a strip of 5 tickets.  He wanted 5,000 shillings for them.  The tickets had Jinja council printed on them but he was wearing a shirt with an engineering company name and could not prove to me he was legitimate.  After we discussed matters for a while he dropped the price to 4,000 shillings.  At this point I said I wasn’t paying.  He threatened to get his boss.  I agreed with his plan.  As he wandered off he wrote a ticket and put it under my wiper.  Our hosts at the lodge later said this is a scam by council employees and that there is a fee but it is only 200 shillings per park not 1000 as he initially quoted.  The boss never did turn up.

Near the lodge and upstream a bit is a series of rapids.  We took a small boat trip with two local chaps paddling to the rapids and back.  Talk about hard work - paddling against the current of the Nile.  It was a pleasant late afternoon trip for us and our paddlers were well tipped when we returned.

Bujagali Rapids, The Nile

White-breasted Cormorants

White-winged Terns, Rock Pratincoles and Reed Cormorant

Reed Cormorant in full breeding regalia

Monday, January 9, 2017

More chameleons

Following on from the chameleon we found near our house a couple of months ago (http://bukobasteve.blogspot.ug/2016/10/chameleon.html) we have seen three more in recent days:

This one was found by the manager of Kipling Lodge up the Nile from Jijna.

This and the next one were found today by our guide on a walk around the waterfalls and villages near Sipi River Lodge.

Like the previous one this was in a coffee plantation and valued by the people here as pest controllers.
Given their ability to change color, how many species have I seen - 1, 2 3, or 4?  I can't imagine birding would be possible if birds could change color like these critters.  I must learn something of chameleon identification!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Mabamba Swamp

This morning we were up early for a cruise on Mabamba Swamp.  This is a large area of papyrus and other reeds on the edge of Lake Victoria near Entebbe.  It is about an hour from home and a relatively easy drive through villages.  Mabamba is the first (and/or last) place overseas birders usually visit when they come to Kampala.  All the tour groups stop here and the main reason is the ease of seeing a Shoebill - almost guaranteed and they are used to boats and people so tend to stay put for photos.  It is also home to over 300 other species of birds so a good list is assured even if you dip on the Shoebill.  We first visited the site with guide David on 23 October but I had somehow managed to put some strange settings into my camera and my photos were rubbish.  This Shoebill was extremely obliging however.

Shoebill - an extremely noisy photo (iso 3200!) I'm ashamed to publish here.
This time we set off with Shukuru - David's grandson as David is a bit lame and reluctant to sit in the boat for 2-3 hours.  I made sure my camera was set properly and asked Shukuru to try to find us Papyrus Gonolek and White-backed Duck, two species I hadn’t seen but which had been recently reported from the swamp.  We found the ducks very quickly - three of them with a few Yellow-billed Ducks.  At the same location we had a Collared Pratincole, Little Stints, Common Ringed Plovers and 2 Lesser Jacanas.  

David seeing us safely aboard

Three White-backed Ducks with four Yellow-billed Ducks

Yellow-billed Duck

Common Ringed Plover

White-backed Duck

Long-toed Lapwing

Saddle-billed Stork

We then spent the next two hours cruising the papyrus beds for the Gonolek.  This is a large colorful shrike that is noisy but skulking.  It is restricted to dense papyrus swamps in nw Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.  We ended up hearing at least two but none came out of the reeds for a look at us.  So of course we will have to go back.  Lots of other birds while we sat quietly - African Reed Warbler, Grey -capped Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Slender-billed Weavers, Black Crake, Blue-breasted Bee-eaters, Swamp Flycatcher, Sand Martins and assorted herons, egrets, cormorants and darters.

Western Osprey

Blue-breasted Bee-eater

From the left - Squacco Heron, Great Egret, Pied Kingfisher, Reed Cormorant, Intermediate Egret (x 2)

African Reed Warbler

Sedge Warbler

Another group of birders.

African Darter

Reed Cormorant

White-winged Terns

A couple of days at home now and on Thursday we head on an eastern safari for 5 nights - first to Jinja (which Ugandans incorrectly say is the source of the Nile) then to Mount Elgon on the Kenyan border.  After that we won’t have long until work starts again with the return of the teaching staff on the 16th January.