Friday, 22 July 2016

Uganda July 2016 - Birds

I am just back from my third tour to Uganda with Ornitholidays. The theme was 'Birds and Primates', and we saw almost 350 species of birds in two weeks. (Mammals in the previous blog, below). Strangest of all the birds we saw is this Shoebill, an inhabitant of huge papyrus swamps, where it feeds mostly on large fish. 

Shoebills only breed in seven countries - South Sudan, western Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, western Tanzania and northern Zambia. They can reach 140cm when standing up, and weigh up to 7 kilos. They can also catch frogs, water snakes, water monitors and small crocodiles. The estimates for the total number of birds are uncertain, but it is currently thought that there are 5,000 – 8,000 Shoebills, most of them in South Sudan. On take-off, it reminded us of a 747, lifting its huge bulk into the air!

Turacos are mostly forest-dwelling fruit-eaters found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. This Great Blue Turaco has also managed to adapt to open, cultivated habitats in western Uganda. A distinctive sound in Ugandan forests is their (impossible to describe!) hollow rattling, bubbling call. 

The Martial Eagle is Africa's second largest raptor, where it inhabits open Acacia savanna and feeds on guineafowl and mammals as large as small antelope. This adult allowed us to drive right below it without taking off. Later we came across a white-headed immature, almost as impressive in its size. 

From the huge to the tiny, here is a family of Red-billed Firefinches; but look carefully! (Click on the photo to enlarge). Close inspection shows that one chick is a firefinch, but the other two are juvenile Village Indigobirds, with streaked backs, a little larger than the firefinch chick. Indigobirds are nest parasites on firefinches, but both species are raised together in the nest.   

On our last day, we had a long drive from Bwindi back to Entebbe Airport, with few opportunities to stop. A legstretch by the road also gave us a chance to find this bush-shrike, a Papyrus Gonolek, on the edge of its marshy habitat. Many thanks to Carren and Mark for the photos that illustrate these two blogs. 

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