Birds, birds, birds

Let’s get it straight: normally I’m not a bird enthusiast, I never go birdwatching at home, although I’m very fond of the blackbirds and little tits that come to our garden. I just like birds without being overly excited or knowing anything much about them.

But when you are surrounded by the most gorgeous birds of different sizes almost all the time, then I admit that I turn into a bird lover (but I still wouldn’t qualify as an enthusiast).

This happened in Uganda.

And it started already on the very first morning, when we stopped by Lake Victoria in Entebbe before heading west. On the pier, having a quiet morning stroll and looking around, was a marabou stork. Not that it is exactly gorgeous (and I often wonder how come a Swedish chocolate manufacturer chose Marabou as its name and the stork as its logo), but it is an impressive creature nonetheless.

Just some examples of what we saw while on the road:

After my first gorilla tracking (see blog post The unexpected time keeper) I sat down on my very pleasant veranda in Mahogany Springs Lodge. Of course I had noticed the beautiful flowers just in front of my room, but now I saw that these flowers attracted lots of birds. I could just sit comfortably outside my room, enjoy the show and take photos. That’s what I call birding!

A few days later, on a small island in Lake Bunyonyi, lazy me was again lucky to be able to admire spectacular bird life from the comfort of a chair while having a cup of coffee.

Although I know the name of most of the birds here above, there are a few that I’m not sure of, so I prefer not to mention any at all so as not to make a fool of myself 🙂

So which was my favourite bird? Actually none of these! It is a secret I will keep for my next blog post.

Looking for the leopard

Our little group of photo enthusiasts travelled in two jeeps, we were in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda, and the problem was that the other jeep had spotted a leopard.

They showed us some terrific photos and we got very jealous. In fact, it seemed a mystery that we had missed it, because our jeep was just ahead of theirs. Maybe the leopard’s head didn’t stick out above the the very tall grass the moment we passed, or maybe it simply wasn’t there yet. Or maybe the five of us all looked in the wrong direction.

Anyway, a frantic search began the following day, with our driver and guide Vincent doing his utmost to find spots where the elusive animal might be seen and all of us staring so hard, and being so hopeful, that the slightest mound was mistaken for a leopard’s head.

We saw antelopes – Uganda kob, topi – in big numbers, innumerable birds including the superb crested crane (Uganda’s national bird), hundreds of elephants in a long procession, one hyena and some shy warthogs.

But no luck with the leopard.

The next possibility to see one could possibly be a couple of days later, in the small Lake Mburo National Park, but we were told that chances were really slim.

Joy and hope spread in the group when we arrived at our lodge in Lake Mburo, Mihingo Lodge, (do stay there if you get a chance, you won’t regret it!) and were informed that  a leopard actually had been spotted on the previous day.

We set out with new energy and were happy to meet buffaloes with their faithful companions the oxpeckers.

We were equally happy to meet a hippo that seemed to have the time of its life, rolling around in the mud and inviting us to take a look at the inside of its imposing mouth.

We were thrilled to stumble upon a small group of alert mongoose as the sun began to sink.

The sun set and we resigned to the fact that we wouldn’t see a leopard on this trip, and started feeling how hungry we were – dinner was in just a few minutes.

We approached the lodge, and … there it was, crossing the road just in front of the jeep!! It lay down just a few metres away, and the excitement saw no end.

Now you expect photo evidence of this encounter in the dark. I have to disappoint you. I took a photo of course, but it came out one of the worst I ever took. It was dark, the exposure time very long even at a high ISO and on top of that I was excited, so you can imagine the shaky result.

You simply have to believe me that it was a marvellous encounter.


The unexpected time keeper

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest – just the name makes you want to go there! It is a rain forest, almost on the equator, in Uganda, and it is just as green, lush, humid and indeed impenetrable as you imagine it to be.

The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park  is one of only a handful of places on earth where you can find mountain gorillas, an endangered species, in the wild. They can actually only live in the wild, they don’t survive outside their rain forest and thus can’t be held in any zoos.

When you go gorilla tracking in Bwindi you get one hour with the gorillas once you have met them in the rain forest (if you meet them, but chances are high that you will since trackers are out in the very early morning to find their approximate whereabouts). I was to walk with a small group heading out to meet the Katwe gorilla group.

I had heard a lot about five hour walks, uphill, with mud and ants and thorny bushes and bees and lianas making your walk difficult, and sometimes you would have to crawl on all fours or slide down on your bum. So it was with some apprehension that I set out along with my six fellow trackers, our guide, our porters (mostly for camera equipment) and two armed guards.

The walk started in the most wonderful rain forest, with birds singing and the sun reaching through the dense vegetation. Very romantic! It was muddy and a bit slippery in places, but certainly nothing like the difficult scenarios I had imagined and was prepared for.

Only after 45 minutes or so a toddler gorilla came to meet us.

He and his toddler friends were quite cheeky but they were kept in strict control by the leader of the pack, the Silverback, the dominant male gorilla. At the slightest grunt from him, they would immediately stop what they were up to and instantly become very well behaved little gorillas. But when the toddler in the photo came straight up to us and started touching the camera of one of my fellow travellers, the Silverback said nothing.

This Silverback was a very remarkable person. I should say remarkable gorilla, of course, but having observed his different expressions, his gestures and behaviour I was struck by the similarities to human behaviour.

I was so absorbed by the emotion of seeing these wonderful creatures and by taking photos of them that I lost all notion of time. But the Silverback apparently didn’t. After one hour he stopped eating leaves and just stood up and left with his group. Our guide confirmed that an hour had passed.

We thought of course that this was pure coincidence.

I went back to track the same group the following day. The walk was amazingly enough even shorter. Again I was totally lost in time, being so close to these wonderful creatures.

After a while the Silverback seemed to have had enough of us, stopped eating the yummy leaves and flowers, stood up and walked away, followed by the others.

Our guide confirmed that an hour had passed.