Budongo Forest, Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth and Bwindi National Parks
18 Jan to 6th Feb
Andre van Arken
The two main focal points on this trip were to initiate a bird monitoring research project at Sonso in Budongo Forest and to try and catch Grasshopper Buzzards in Murchison falls nat park. Sonso and the Budongo Forest Conservation Field Station has been a research facility for primarily Chimpanzees over the years and is a well established institution.
January is coming to the end of the dry season and the Grasshopper Buzzards are trans African migrants from the Sahel region possibly from West Africa and arrive in N Uganda in December through to March to coincide with the burning savannah along with Northern Carmine Bee-eaters and Abdims Storks.
We managed to catch and ring 22 Grasshopper Buzzards which was a great total.
In all at 4 different sites we ringed 577 new birds plus 34 retraps of 122 species.
To acclimatise we spent the first two days in and around Kampala at a fish ponds and in a friends wonderful garden full of sunbirds and Reed Warblers!
The highlights were getting a Black Crake, Shikra and Pied Kingfisher at the fishponds and Black Bishops, Brown Twinspots, Grey Woodpecker and Lizard Buzzard in the Garden, although I do like getting migrant warblers there!
We left for Sonso the research camp in Budongo Forest and on the way dropped a trap for an adult Western Banded Snake Eagle which landed on the trap, but got off.
Arrived in time to set 10 x 60’ nets along a transect line as well as putting 5 up in an area of Lantana camara scrub.
Before long we were busy with Brown Illadopsis and Brown-chested Alethes with chimpanzees creating a wonderful crescendo in the background.
Over the next few days we caught quite a variety of species some highlights were Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, Jamison’s Wattle-eye, Red-tailed Ant-thrush, Western Black-headed Oriole, Grey-throated Tit Flycatcher and Fire-crested Alethe.
The lantana nets caught Plain-backed Pipit, Winchat, Garden Warbler, loads of Speckled Tinkerbirds and was quite gob-smacked to get a European Blackcap, rare for Uganda indeed and a first for Budongo Forest.
Over the days at Sonso we netted in 3 different sites in the forest and at the stream. Here we had an amazing time when setting a small double panel net over the water and caught a mix of 40 Black and White-headed Saw-wings. Then one evening I noticed a Sabine’s Spinetail come to drink and so set a net and caught 9 of these birds, biirds one only ever sees above the forest canopy and hardly if ever caught and ringed! It was so cool to finally get to se up close the Spines of a Spinetail!
My Trainee Nathan, decided to put a sneaky net up along a path next to the stream some way into the forest and what a net! After two rounds he had caught 4 species of Kingfisher! The magnificent Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Dwarf Kingfisher, both a West African Species just reaching east Africa in Uganda, 2 Pygmy Kingfishers and a Shining Blue Kingfisher!
Whilst sitting round the ringing table we were momentarily diverted when a troop of Chimps crossed the track not 50 metres away!
Nahan’s Francolin were calling and tried to pull them in with playback but they were having non of it!
We caught well at this new site and especially Eastern Forest Robins and a surprise Yellow-billed Barbet, an impressive bird.
The species accumulation curve had not levelled off yet! And new birds included White-tailed Ant-thrush, Dusky Crested Flycatcher, Scaly-breasted Illadopsis, Icterine Greenbul, Red-tailed Bristlebill, Yellow-crested Woodpecker, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird and Rufus Flycatcher Thrush.
One afternoon we walked to a Crowned Eagles nest in a huge fig tree and spotted a juvenile sitting some way from the huge nest.
Searching the base of the tree directly underneath the nest we found several skulls of Tree Hyrax and several of either Black and White Colobus, Red-tailed or Blue Monkey.
Murchison Falls Nat Park
After a slap up breakfast in the Masindi Hotel, we drove north to the River Nile. On the way we stopped in a northern sector of the park to take a guide and look for Chimpanzees, two large groups were located and gave an unforgettable experience with big males displaying and buttress thumping, all quite impressive. We were soon out of the forest in bushy grassland and soon found our first Grasshopper Buzzards, we had 2 come to trap as well as 2 Dark-chanting Goshawk but very wary.
We first stopped at the top of Murchison Falls to see the great violent thundering cascade, named after a man who never set foot in Africa! (Murchison was head of the Royal Geographical Society and the falls were named in his honour by Samuel Baker).
First thing we took the ferry across the Nile to the North bank and bumped into Prof Derek Pomeroy from Makerere University and Paul Buckley of the RSPB who were about to conduct the annual waterfowl count here, whilst watching some 300+ African Skimmers doing their thing on the smooth surface.
The North bank is quite different to the south here and stretching away to the horizon was this beautiful Borassus palm savannah, which is classified as the Guinea-Somali Savannah and as such holds many species indicative of West Africa.
First off we dropped a trap for a Western-banded Snake Eagle but it took off. Then a Grey Kestrel, came in to inspect out mouse and gave up, then finally after an hour we got our first Grasshopper Buzzard. It was a cracking adult, such a handsome looking bird. We carried on and tried dropping for Tawny Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Black-chested Snake Eagle and slowly built up a total of 7 Grasshopper Buzzards ringed.
Observations included Isabelline Wheatear, Caspian Plover, Yellow-billed Shrike and a troop of 20 Patas Monkeys, such beautiful creatures and interesting to see this terrestrial mammal out on the open savannah.
Later back at camp on the south bank we set 8 x 60’ and 2 x 40’ nets catching a few Reed Warblers, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Black-headed Gonolek and a Red-winged Grey Warbler, this latter species an indicator of the Northern Congolian Forest Savannah Mosaic biome.
Opening one morning I had an adult Standard-winged Nightjar fly over the net! Such a wonderful looking thing, looks like a large bird being chased by two smaller ones!
Of note we caught a Long-tailed Nightjar, African Moustached Warbler, Reed Warblers, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Spot-flanked Barbet, Whistling Cisticola and 6 Red-throated Bee-eater came to the ipod!
We would close nets late morning to go look for more Grasshopper Buzzards, once on the south bank. We found a good burn site and a few loafing birds and caught 2 Grasshopper Buzzards a Dark-chanting Goshawk and a Grey Kestrel. I also finally saw a White-fronted Black Chat here, an indicator of the Guinea – Somali savannah. One afternoon we took a boat ride down to the Nile delta where it flows into Lake Albert looking for the Holy Grail of birds, the Shoebill. We found two!
One morning we spent searching the delta area in the vehicle and struggled to find GB’s, no burnt grasslands here. Tried for 2 Brown Snake Eagles, Dark-chanting Goshawks, Grey Kestrels and an adult male Montague’s Harrier sitting in a bush which was interested in the mouse, but probably too full of grasshoppers to bother! Did see Isabelline Shrike, Greater-spotted Cuckoo, Rothchild’s Giraffe, Elephant, plenty of Oribi and Kongoni. No Lions, but we were not looking for them!
Leaving Murchison after 4 nights we crossed to the north and set off on a remote back track which ran East parallel to the Nile. Along here we cam across a Martial Eagle which we dropped for, but it had just killed and eaten a Banded Mongoose and although interested in the mice, was keen on seconds as the entire Mongoose pack were kicking up a dreadful fuss beneath the tree!.
We found plenty of GB’s and by late morning we had caught and ringed 12 including two at once! Many birds would come to trap and just sit and watch the mouse for ages, then another would hit the trap right away.
On the way back to Kampala we stopped and caught a Western-banded Snake Eagle and saw a Bat Hawk on the road up to the house where after 13 hours in the vehicle had a well earned beer!
We set off late morning after a session in the garden and took the very scenic road through Queen Elizabeth national park where we encountered a more than usual number of Long-crested Eagles and caught 3! Must be a big movement of rodents here as it too was burning in places. On the way we found a fig tree in the savannah with 3 sleeping Lions sprawled across the branches!
At Bwindi we stayed in the lodge and the following morning an expedition to see the Mountain Gorillas was made where 19 animals were encountered in a family, a truly memorable experience and well worth the 3 hours of climbing up into the forest. A National Geographic photographer was staying in the lodge and when we left, travelled together and managed to catch another Long-crested Eagle where he proceeded to take uncountable shots of the bird and it being ringed.
On the way back to Entebbe we tried for a Bateleur, Wahlberg’s Eagle and Grey Kestrel.
|Western-banded Snake Eagle||1|
|Black-billed Wood Dove||2|
|Blue-spotted Wood Dove||4|
|Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo||4|
|Western Black-headed Oriole||1|
|Red-tailed Ant Thrush||3|
|White-tailed Ant Thrush||4|
|Spotted Morning Thrush||2|
|Eastern Forest Robin||18|
|Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher||5|
|RB x AP Flycatcher Hybrid||3|
|Grey Throated Tit-flycatcher||5|
|Dusky Crested Flytcatcher||1|
|European Reed Warbler||9|
|E Olivaceous Warbler||1|
|Red-winged Grey Warbler||1|
|African Moustached Warbler||1|
|Af Yellow White-eye||3|
|Northern Grey-headed Sparrow||1|
|Black and White Mannikin||5|