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inyathi

During our stay we discussed the future of T-SWR with the lodge manager Tony part of his job, besides looking after the lodge is too assist with anti-poaching in the reserve, he seemed to be very optimistic about the future and told us about the plans for the reserve. One of the current challenges for the T-SWR is that it has a main road through the middle of it, although it is at least still only a dirt road it does have plenty of traffic on it as we discovered. On several occasions when we were stopped on the bridge to bird we had to move out of the way to let a truck or car through and inevitably they don’t always drive at the appropriate speed, that poses a danger to wildlife.

 

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Transporting oil drums, all part of God's plan

 

Some people driving through seeing all of the animals might also be tempted to poach, so the plan ideally is to create a new main road outside the reserve, so that the main road through the reserve can then be closed to public traffic. The idea is then to fence the T-SWR, I don’t know how easy that would be or where the money would come from. UWA would then reintroduce hartebeest something they have been planning to do for some time, quite why they haven’t already done it I don’t know, as there seem to be more than enough hartebeest in MFNP to spare a few. If the reserve is fenced then lions could be brought back, I would suggest given that the reserve is almost midway between QENP and MFNP that for genetic diversity, they should bring in lions from each of these parks assuming they have enough lions to spare. The recent poisoning of a pride in QENP is not good news and might suggest that that park doesn’t have spare lions, whether any of this will really happen I don’t know, but the return of lions would I’m sure boost tourism. Even just bringing back hartebeest which should be much easier because their presence wouldn’t worry local people, would add a bit more variety to the savanna.   

 

I wondered when we were discussing the reserve whether there were perhaps other missing species besides hartebeest and lions, such as perhaps roan or common eland. Back at home consulting Kingdon’s East African Mammals as well as Mammals of Africa, would seem to indicate that neither species ever occurred in Toro, both species were confined to the southwest of Uganda in the Lake Mburo area and to the northeast in Karamoja. Curiously the Indiana University’s pages on T-SWR say that zebras were once found in the area, but had gone before the reserve was created, the books though do not suggest this would have been the case and zebras in Uganda have pretty much the exact same distribution as roan and common eland. If there were evidence that zebras had been there before, then they could be quite easily introduced from Lake Mburo NP. The distribution of various species within Uganda is quite curious, giraffes for example were only ever found north and east of the Nile, why I’m not entirely sure. Recently UWA moved a group of giraffes from MFNP down to Lake Mburo NP, despite the fact that they had apparently never historically occurred there, the habitat in LMNP was deemed to be perfect and the giraffes appear to be thriving there. Apparently, there are still plans to introduce giraffes to QENP another park from which they were naturally absent, when this will happen I don’t know. There are not as far as I know plans to introduce giraffes into T-SWR, I don’t know if the habitat is suitable and if this has been considered, I would think that it is unlikely that they would introduce giraffes. If the fencing does go ahead then I think they could possibly consider introducing southern white rhinos, as this would again help attract tourists. There have to my knowledge never been any rhinos in this part of Uganda, the extinct northern white rhinos were naturally confined to West Nile Province, black rhinos were found in the southwest in the Lake Mburo area, at least according to my LMNP guidebook, but I've just read online that they were never found north of the Kagera River, I don't know which is right but this suggests that maybe they were entirely restricted to the north of Uganda in the northeast in Karamoja and in MFNP and West Nile at one time and were therefore never found south of the Nile in Semliki or further south in QENP.

 

If the reserve is not fenced, then I’m not sure how realistic it is to reintroduce lions, the situation in T-SWR is very similar to that in LMNP, Lake Mburo is located within the Kingdom of Ankole famed for its magnificent long horned Ankole cattle, in order to protect these animals which are often to be found grazing inside LMNP, the people either speared or poisoned the park’s original lions. Some new lions then showed up, it’s thought they may have come up from Akagera NP in Rwanda where lions were wiped out following the Rwandan civil war. It was my understanding that all of these lions had likewise been killed, so I was surprised to be told by our guide Martin that there was actually one left. Of course, one even if it’s not soon killed is no use, so apparently UWA plan to introduce more lions and the idea is that some of the new lions will be collared, so that UWA can always monitor their whereabouts and in that way try to prevent them from being killed. If the lions are in area where there are likely to be people grazing their cattle, then they can send rangers to the area to inform the people that the lions are around and the people can then move their stock somewhere safer and make sure that they are securely boma-ed at night. Alternatively, the rangers could try to move the lions further back into the park in some way, if this system can be made to work then perhaps they could do the same in T-SWR. Certainly, bringing lions back to T-SWR would make a huge difference to the reserve giving it added tourist appeal as well as controlling kob numbers, they do though really need to get on and bring the hartebeest back, because they’ll either need to bring in a large number or allow enough time for their numbers to build up, before bringing in lions. Simply increasing the natural prey base for lions in T-SWR by reintroducing hartebeest and by completely stamping out any poaching of buffaloes and kob should help keep peoples’ livestock safe.

 

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Cattle on the shores of Lake Albert at Ntoroko

 

There are quite a lot of people in the reserve notably in Ntoroko Village I didn’t unfortunately think to ask how fencing the park would work with regard to villages like Ntoroko. I am slightly sceptical as to whether the fencing will happen, I think that UWA will eventually at some point bring hartebeest back but quite when I’m not sure and I hope they do return lions but only if they can guarantee that they can be kept safe. If they do fence it then it would cut the reserve off from Semuliki National Park, I would assume that although there’s only a short distance between the two, there are just too many people to link them together, otherwise in an ideal world they could be joined into one national park, but I don’t think that’s realistic.

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inyathi

Seeing a bit of Semuliki National Park on the cheap.

 

A brief note on names, in colonial times this area of rainforest was known as the Bwamba Forest, when it was gazetted as a national park in 1993, for some reason UWA decided not to stick with this name, I don’t know why. Maybe the park comprises more than just Bwamba Forest, whatever the case they decided to re-name it after the Semliki River, which forms the western boundary along the DRC border. However, they knew that if they called it Semliki National Park, this would lead to confusion between the park and Toro-Semliki WR, so someone decided to change the spelling to Semuliki as though this very subtle difference would somehow solve the problem and avoid any confusion, it hasn’t. It seems to me that it would have been much better to have called it Bwamba NP and then there would be no confusion.

 

The Bwamba Forest is actually the easternmost part of the great Ituri Rainforest in the DRC and the only true lowland rainforest in East Africa, as such it is home to bird and mammal species typical of the Congo and further west, that are not found elsewhere in Uganda. At least once back in colonial times, what is perhaps the Ituri Rainforest’s most notable mammal species, the okapi was recorded in Bwamba, as far as I know there was just one animal, I presume that this was a lone animal that wondered over border, hung around for a short while and then wondered back into the Belgian Congo as it then was. I don’t believe that there have been any sightings of okapis in Uganda since that time, so I think it’s safe to say that there are none in the forest now, I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t think that there has ever been a permanently resident population in Uganda in recent times, but there quite likely was in the not so distant past when the extent of the rainforest in Uganda was far greater. Semuliki NP adjoins the northern end of Virunga NP in the DRC and there should still be, at least according to the IUCN distribution map, okapis there only a few miles away, so, who knows, if they’re properly protected in Virunga maybe someday another okapi will wonder over the border into Uganda, or perhaps there is some small difference in the habitat that makes Semuliki not the best home for okapis.

 

The park is home to some 400 bird species and just over half of these are exclusively forest species, not seen in other habitats, in order to see a good portion of these forest birds and in particular the ones I would call Congolese specials, then you need stay in the park and spend a few days and a lot of time walking the forest trails with a good birdguide. Likewise, if your interest is the forest mammals you’d want to stay here, to spend a good amount of time in the forest. For a number of reasons, we chose not to do this. From what I could ascertain from the Bradt guide and from the internet, the accommodation options here are not great, without adding a couple of days onto the trip, including a couple of nights at the park, would have necessitated cutting nights elsewhere which we were reluctant to do. An alternative would have been to have cut one day from our time in T-SWR and spend that day visiting Semuliki instead as a day trip from Semliki Safari Lodge, however, we didn’t particularly want to do that either. Instead what we had decided to do, was not go into the national park at all, but simply drive past to do some birding from the main road. Besides lacking the time to stay at the park, deciding not to go in would save us a good bit of money, in addition to the $35 park entrance fee, you have to pay another $30 fee for the compulsory guide, and as the national park and T-SWR are entirely separate, if you are going into the T-SWR on the same day you have to add on another entry fee for there as well.

 

There is accommodation and food of some sort available, but my understanding is it is a little basic, but I didn't see the NP Bandas or the restaurant so I can't really comment.

 

 

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We left Semliki Safari Lodge in the dark and drove to the Fort Portal-Bundibugyo-Lamia Road which is a good tarmac road, then turning right we drove around to the eastern end of the national park, along the way we picked up a local birdguide Justice. Then driving and walking, we birded along the road down to the Bumaga Campsite area, this is a beautiful stretch of road because you have the rainforest and national park on one side and on the other the northern foothills of the Ruwenzoris.

 

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This produced some good birds like white-crested, red-billed dwarf and piping hornbills, western bronze-naped pigeon and black-bellied seedcracker, I had seen some of these birds before in Gabon but it was nice to see them again. While driving I had the most perfect view of the beautiful white-crested hornbill sitting low down on a branch right beside the road, it would have made a great photo but as always in these situations as soon as we stopped it vanished. I had to make do with a shot of a more distant one.

 

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White-crested hornbill

 

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Viellot's black weaver male and female

 

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Piping hornbills

 

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Grosbeak weaver female

 

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Black-bellied seedcracker

 

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The foothills of the Ruwenzoris 

 

Besides the birds we saw a couple of blue monkeys, a lot of grey-cheeked mangabeys and a good few red-tailed monkeys.

 

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Blue monkey

 

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Grey-cheeked Mangabey 

 

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Red-tailed monkey

 

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The foothills of the Ruwenzoris 

 

I had particularly hoped that we might also see some De Brazza’s monkeys as they can be seen from this road, unfortunately we had the bad luck to be there on the one day when all of the local people are collecting firewood. There were people on all the trails into the forest and a constant sound of chopping wood, we stopped at a spot on the road where Justice regularly sees De Brazza’s and we did in fact hear one calling off in the forest somewhere, but saw nothing, the disturbance had driven them away from anywhere near the road, deeper into the swampy forest. I have seen De Brazza’s once before in Siawa Swamp NP in Kenya but really wanted to see some again. There is another monkey found in the park the Dent’s mona monkey which I would like to have seen, but to see Dent’s monkey you to have to go deep into the forest, that’s my one regret about not entering the park. There’s no guarantee that we would have seen De Brazza’s if we’d been there on another day when people weren’t collecting firewood, but they are seen pretty regularly so the chances of seeing these monkeys is quite good.

 

Edited by inyathi

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dlo

Nice shoebill sighting @inyathi we hope to see them in M.F as we missed them our first trip but if we miss them again I think my only chance is Mabamba swamp. Like you though I'm having a time crunch and may not be able to go there. Do you think its worth the effort at M.F to find them, as the Bradt guide says you won't see much otherwise compared to the Paraa boat launch? I think it was Wild Frontiers that does the Delta trip in M.F so you may have done this.

We are going to stop at Lake Mburo as apparently they have good success on the night drives with leopards and hyenas. There is apparently a compensation scheme for the farmers there but it obviously hasn't helped the lions. Do you feel like fencing is really the only solution here? 

 

Fantastic report you have me looking forward to each installment.

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anocn4

@inyathi I like the system where the lodge buy fish from the fishermen there. Always glad to see tourism benefits local people. It''s not only because it is good for the animals in the long run if everyone is on board, but I think I have an idea how hard they have to work and it feels good to see they get a break every now and then. 

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Treepol

@inyathi what a fantastic shoebill sighting! The Piping and White-crested Hornbills are impressive birds too.

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Towlersonsafari

wow what a fine  shoebill sighting-would love to see one-and the camp looks very good-looking forward to your next leg @inyathi

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inyathi

The scenic route to Fort Portal taking the Itojo Old Road

 

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At the eastern end of the park are the Sempaya Hot Springs quite a lot of tourists come to the park to visit the hot springs, driving back along the main road when we got to the village of Sempaya close to the hot springs, we turned off up what’s known as the Itojo Old Road. This winding road goes from Sempaya Village up through the foothills of the Ruwenzori Mountains over the Buranga pass and down to the village of Itojo, before rejoining the main road just north of the turn off for the T-SWR. After the main road was built this old road was no longer really needed, but it has been kept open as a road for tourists, because it is a pretty spectacular drive. It’s only a narrow dirt road, the first part starting from Sempaya is very winding as you can see on the map, after a relatively short climb we pulled off the road on the edge of a hairpin bend, to enjoy the view and have a late picnic breakfast. From our vantage point we looked down on the Sempaya Hot Springs. 

 

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Sempaya Hot Springs 

 

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Oil palm forest at Sempaya

 

From a point further along the road we had a great view looking over Sempaya Village across the Semliki River into the DRC, the Blue Mountains on beyond were somewhat lost in the haze.

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Semliki River Uganda/DRC border

 

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While it is a stunning drive and we saw some good birds along the way, and some blue monkeys, black and white colobus and olive baboons, it has to be said that the deforestation going on in these hills is simply appalling. Despite the fact that it is supposed to be a forest reserve, the hillsides are being denuded of trees, cut down to provide firewood or to clear more land for farming.

 

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On such steep slopes this is madness, I almost hope that one day there will be a massive mudslide the complete blocks the nice new main road so that they will do something to stop this. Just above Sempaya I also saw a herd of magnificent long-horned Ankole cattle grazing on the hillside below me and I don’t suppose they are doing much for the trees.

 

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Bronze manikins

 

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Little bee-eater

 

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Semi-collared flycatcher

 

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Leaflove

 

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There's still some good patches of forest

 

As we drove up there was basically no one else on the road, only tourists use the road now and not all of them come this way, so we were quite surprised when we saw this Ugandan couple driving down in a rather smart car with tinted windows, clearly not birders, perhaps they were headed for the hot springs, but why they chose to take this road I don't know, once you've decided to go this way you're pretty much committed, you can't easily turn around anywhere, they needed some advice from Martin as to how to get past us even though there was room enough.  

 

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Grey-headed kingfisher

 

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I don't know what this tree is but I photographed it as it so unusual looking.

 

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Klaas's cuckoo

 

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Candelabra euphorbia

 

Where people have planted a few trees they’re generally Caribbean pines, a pretty poor replacement for the native forest that was there, in recent years there seems to have been trend for planting these pine trees in Uganda, I can only assume there’s good money to be made from them, at least from large plantations. They don’t however, always seem to be that well looked after, we passed a few places where the pines had died in some case they'd been burnt presumably in a bush fire.

 

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Caribbean pine trees

 

By the time we had crossed the Buranga Pass and reached Itojo Village it was around 15:00, we dropped off Justice by the main road, from there he would take a taxi home, while we carried on to Fort Portal.

 

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 Justice at Itojo

 

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Viewpoint Bundibugyo-Fort Portal Road

 

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These kids were hanging around the viewpoint, Martin gave them a mild ticking off for not being at school

 

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Spectacular view, but where's the forest?

Edited by inyathi

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inyathi

@Towlersonsafari We were very lucky with the shoebill sighting, visitors may see more than one on a boat trip but not usually together, Uganda I would say must be the easiest place in Africa to see shoebills, the great thing about including T-SWR if you're also going to MFNP, is it does give you an extra shot at these birds because nothing can ever be guaranteed, and if you allow time while in Entebbe then Mabamba Swamp on Lake Vic offers a third shot at shoebills. Include all 3 and then you can just about guarantee that you'll see at least one shoebill.    

 

@dlo On my last visit I had the good fortune to have good views of shoebills in MFNP although I didn’t get such good photos, it was in pre-digital times and I had a smaller lens. That time we saw them going down to the delta and very surprisingly saw one going up to the falls which is unusual, on this trip we didn’t look for them from the boat but I’ll say more on that later. It probably is worth looking for them in MFNP but it does come down to luck and I think from recollection from the time when I did do the delta trip, you don’t see quite as much big game as you do on the trip up to the falls.

 

Probably in the case of Lake Mburo and T-SWR fencing may prove to be the answer, certainly some way has to be found to ensure that these parks can have lions. One difference between them is that unfortunately the Ankole cattle in and around LMNP are themselves a tourist attraction and visitors like to see them. That’s has perhaps led UWA to have a more lenient of the cattle grazing in the park, and actually provided the stocking density is not too high they probably don’t do much damage, there may even be some benefits, except as far as lions are concerned.

 

The major complication in Lake Mburo’s case is that it was first established in colonial times as a Controlled Hunting Area so basically a game reserve and much larger than it is today. The people living in it were granted permits allowing them to stay, but then during the Amin era a lot of mainly Bahima people illegally moved in with their livestock and also started clearing land to farm. After Obote came back in he decided in 1983 to upgrade Lake Mburo to a national park and kick out all of the new people who were considered squatters, he did so in a typically jackbooted fashion burning huts and that sort of thing. This led to a serious conflict between the Bahima and the park, during the bush war between the NRA and the Obote regime, the local people decided the solution to their problem with the park was to kill all of the wildlife then park would go away. Museveni when he took over decided the best solution rather than lose the park entirely was to placate the people by reducing the size of the park, so he degazetted some 60% of LMNP. As a consequence, the park is now quite small but that’s better than no park at all, it’s unlikely that it could ever be home to more than a small number of lions, given the history I doubt there’s any scope to enlarge the park, whatever they do UWA don’t want to get into a renewed conflict with the Bahima and other people in the area. From a tourism point of view what LMNP really needs besides lions is elephants, I don’t know if UWA have any plans to reintroduce them, it is a bit small but then there are smaller parks in Africa that have elephants. Fencing is certainly one option to resolve conflict with the local people which will likely arise if lions are brought back, of course if the people feel that they depend on being able to take their cattle into the park to graze, they might not like being fenced out.       

 

@anocn4 The situation in Lake Mburo really illustrates how important it is to maintain a good relationship with the people living in and around conservation areas and is why even if it’s only a small thing Semliki Safari Lodge buying fish is a very good thing.

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inyathi

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Driving in to Fort Portal

 

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By the time we got to Fort Portal it was about quarter to four, this was somewhat later than I had expected as this was our scheduled lunch stop. Once in the town we stopped at the Gardens Restaurant for a rather late buffet lunch, the food was fine for a buffet and the garden proved to be good for birds. 

 

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African thrush at the Gardens Restaurant

 

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Green-headed sunbird female, and male

 

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Just for amusement having family from Ireland, I had to photograph this dish of potatoes, in East Africa regular potatoes are called Irish potatoes to distinguish them from sweet potatoes. 

 

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Ross's turaco

 

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When we stopped on our way out of town to pick up some bottled water I was surprised to that one of the roads is still named Lugard Rd, I suppose Lugard was really responsible for creating Uganda but it seemed slightly surprising that they are still commemorating a British Imperialist and haven’t changed the name.

 

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Fort Portal is the largest city in western Uganda and the capital of the Kingdom of Toro, the current Omukama of Toro Rukirabasaija Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV who came to the throne in 1995 at the age of three and a half, has his Royal Palace in the city.

 

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Cinnamon-breasted bee-eaters on the way out of Fort Portal, Uganda

 

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inyathi

Kibale Forest NP and Bigodi Swamp

 

Like Semuliki NP, Kibale Forest National Park was gazetted in 1993 so was still quite a new park when we visited in 97 back then there were none of the lodges that are in the area now. On that trip we had asked to camp at Kanyanchu where UWA have a campsite, unbeknownst to us the safari company had their own private campsite which they always used when visiting Kibale so they ignored the request from the travel agent. We wanted to be at Kanyanchu because all the information we had about birding in Kibale was about Kanyanchu and this is also the start point for chimp treks. The private campsite where we ended up staying was miles away from Kanyanchu on part of a coffee shamba next to a little eucalyptus plantation and nowhere near the rainforest the surrounding area by the camp was basically farmland. It was a long drive to Kanyanchu, in those days the main road was still a dirt road, you really want to start birding soon after first light, which meant getting up an hour earlier than we would have had to, to get to where we needed to be at the right time. Outside of Australia, eucalyptus plantations are as far as wildlife is concerned almost always virtually dead, so when we were back in camp birdwatching opportunities in the surrounding area were quite limited. We were really not at all pleased about all of this.

 

This time, we were determined that we would not be staying in the wrong place, so when choosing accommodation, from amongst the various lodges that have been built in the area since our previous safari, our first choice could only be Primate Lodge, not only is it actually in the rainforest, but it’s right at Kanyanchu. Fortunately, they were not booked up, this would then be the perfect base for birding along the main road at Kanyanchu which we wanted to do and for chimp trekking as I had signed up for the habituation experience which starts from Kanyanchu.

 

We arrived at Primate Lodge just before dusk after a rather long but great day, it had been perhaps a little tiring and I hadn’t anticipating not having lunch until after 16:00. if instead of going via this very scenic route we had opted to do a short game drive in T-SWR and then drive direct to Fort Portal we would have got there for lunch at a more normal hour, but then perhaps on safari as on Wall Street to quote the fictional movie character Gordon Gekko “lunch is for wimps”. As well as for the birds that we saw and the monkeys, it was well worth doing the drive for the spectacular scenery, I do worry though that in the future there will far fewer birds to be found on the Itojo Old Road if they don’t get on top of the tree cutting. Even though I hadn’t gone into Semuliki NP I still scored at least one lifer, unexpectedly it was a Eurasian bird the semi-collared flycatcher.

 

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Bigodi Swamp

 

On our previous visit we had done the Bigodi Swamp walk in the afternoon and seen some quite good birds and quite a few monkeys, but we thought that this time it would be better to set off first thing and do it in the morning. Besides Primate Lodge, there was one very obvious and major difference from our previous visit and that was the road through the park, when we first came it was just wide red dusty dirt road, now it is wide tarmac road which is great from the point of view of getting around in Uganda and I’m sure local drivers are thrilled, but I would say from the point of view of the forest, the wildlife and the fact that it’s a national park makes this development something of a mixed blessing, but I will return to this subject a bit later. It did though mean that we were able to get to Bigodi reasonably quickly, as shown on the map above, Bigodi Swamp is just outside the national park, we drove to the KAFRED (Kibale Association For Rural and Environmental Development) office where the swamp walk starts, from there we picked up a local guide Ben and then our driver guide Martin, decided that we should first visit a different papyrus swamp the other side of the main road. We proceeded to drive along a track that I can only say looked much more like a footpath than any sort of road, once we couldn’t go any further we got out and walked down hill and along a track through the swamp, and then off a short distance along the edge of field of coffee plants. One of the main birds we had missed on our last visit was the colourful papyrus gonolek and Martin thought this was the place to find it.

 

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Swamp landscape near Kibale Forest

 

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Searching for the papyrus gonolek Swamp near Bigodi Village

 

In between looking for birds I noticed a certain amount of litter, and on closer inspection I saw that it mainly consisted of empty plastic alcohol sachets, not something I've come across outside Africa, on the spur of the moment I decided to photograph one as I found it quite interesting when I saw the strength of the alcohol, so then for amusement I took photos of the different ones I found and once back home I cropped the photos and stuck them together to create this collage.  

 

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Alcohol in sachets like this are found all over Africa and many African countries have decided recently to ban their sale, according to a Ugandan newspaper Uganda was due to ban them last September, I don’t know if they went ahead with the ban, these sachets could have been lying around since before then. A ban would certainly be a very good idea one of these 100ml sachets of 40-42% alcohol only costs 500 Uganda Shillings which is only about 10 pence in GBP.

 

Despite their best efforts to try and call one in there appeared to be no gonoleks in residence. Going right down to the edge of the swamp our guide succeeded in calling in a white-spotted flufftail, but it was very hard to see, this bird is almost the definition of a skulker, you’d see it move but then it would seem to just disappear. It just didn’t want to show itself, I got a reasonable look at it a couple of times for a very brief moment, but there was no chance of getting a photo. I also saw a snowy-crowned robin-chat we tried again for the gonolek on the track through the papyrus but no luck, a blue-headed coucal did respond.

 

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Blue-headed coucal

 

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One or two locals wandered by.

 

Despite seeing some good birds we’d perhaps spent a bit long at this other swamp, because by the time we got back to the KAFRED office and then started on the proper Bigodi Swamp walk it was nearly 10:00. The walk is circular and while it’s not seriously long it’s quite far enough to walk considering you are almost right on the Equator, towards the end of the walk you have to walk for some way along a dirt road in the middle of the day walking this stretch of road gets seriously hot. Besides good birding the swamp walk offers the chance to see a lot of monkeys, it is one of the best places to see monkeys. Notably the Uganda red colobus (Procolobus tephrosceles) this species in Uganda is entirely confined to the Kibale, area it also occurs in a few scattered locations in western Tanzania (I’ve seen them in Mahale Mts.), while you may see these colobuses in Kibale Forest itself, you’ll likely see them much closer and better at Bigodi. It is also a great place to see, what is perhaps Uganda’s most beautiful monkey L’hoest’s which again your more likely to see on the swamp walk than in the forest itself. If you are going gorilla trekking in Bwindi then you’ve reasonable chance of seeing L’Hoests there I had good views of them in Bwindi up at Ruhiza but didn’t get good photos and had had a brief glimpse of some on the road through Kibale on my last visit. I hoped that I would see some again as we weren’t going to Bwindi at all this time, we wouldn’t get another chance after Kibale as we were headed north and they are not found anywhere further north in Uganda. If you are very quiet and have a lot of luck you can see some forest antelopes here, there are various duikers and apparently even sitatungas, how often visitors see either I don't know, I wasn't that lucky. 

 

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Tree agama 

 

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Acreaea macarista I think

 

Walking along the edge of the forest at the start of the walk we quickly found some red-tailed monkeys. 

 

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Red-tailed monkey

 

Then only moments later I had a very good but very brief view of a L’Hoest’s inside the forest. L’Hoest’s monkeys live in the understorey either on or just above the ground, this makes them quite difficult to see through the vegetation and they will likely hear or see you before you’re aware of them and will quickly disappear deeper into the forest, unlike other monkeys up in the trees that might not be that bothered by you. There were obviously more but I only got glimpses as they moved away, I was pleased to have had a good view of one, even if I couldn’t get a photo. Then something really frustrating happened, I spotted another one on the ground actually standing on the path just in front of us on the corner, with it’s head hidden behind the trees. There was no way I could get a photo even a headless one or stop it from being frightened away.

 

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Fireball lily

 

On the rest of the walk we soon found some red colobus and plenty of different birds.

 

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Uganda red colobus

 

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Bocage's or grey-green bush-shrike 

 

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African blue flyactcher

 

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Boehm's bush squirrel 

 

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Much of the land immediately around the swamp has been cleared to make fields to grow crops or in this case to create pasture for cattle

 

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African pipit

 

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Guereza colobus 

 

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Levaillant's cuckoo

 

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Dusky blue flycatcher

 

Walking along the edge of the forest on the other side of the swamp, from where I'd seen the first L'Hoest's monkeys, I spotted another one, this one had obviously been foraging in the cultivated field beside swamp, had heard us coming and ran across the track back into the safety of the trees. I only managed to get one very poor photo.

 

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L'Hoests monkey 

 

I anticipated that the might be more still in the field and got into position to try and take more shots, sure enough two more ran across but I simply wasn’t quick enough and got no photos. Typically, it occurred to me afterwards that I should have switched the camera to video and then focused on the right point and started filming in anticipation that they would run across as I filmed and I would then have at least got something, probably something much better than my one photo. I didn’t see any more after that. Only more colobus.

 

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Guereza colobus

 

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Uganda red colobus

 

Getting towards the end of the walk as mentioned you emerge onto a dirt road, this was very hot in the middle of the day with the sun overhead and so not too much shade.

 

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Children on the road

 

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Murals KAFRED office

 

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After the walk we headed back to the lodge for a late lunch, but we could have had lunch next to the KAFRED office as there's a restaurant there.

 

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I don't know what the food is like, but I like the message. 

Edited by inyathi

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inyathi

Kibale Forest

 

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Primate Lodge

 

Primate Lodge is a very nice, the bungalow rooms are well spread out in a wide circle from the main building, so they are nicely private from each other. The one major issue I have with the place which I hope they will put right is that the long circular path that links the rooms, is made up of what I would call stone hardcore, the individual pieces of stone are far larger than anything that I would call gravel. The problem with this is that it is very uncomfortable to walk on, it’s a long path and therefore quite a long walk to some of the rooms, the other problem is that it’s impossible to walk on it quietly, you are walking through the forest, so there is the potential to see wildlife but anything that’s around will have heard you before you ever get near. They really ought to get rid of this stone and perhaps pave the paths in some way.

 

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What for me is perhaps the best thing about Primate Lodge is that being in the forest, you are able to see red-tailed monkeys up close, living around the lodge they are well habituated and not at all bothered by people.

 

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Red-tailed monkey

 

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In the late afternoon we birded along the main road, as mentioned earlier when I last visited the road was a wide red dirt road, now it has been tarmacked all the way through. Walking along a road has its downside with cars and occasional trucks going past but the traffic wasn’t bad most of the time and in rainforests birding from a road is so much easier than from a narrow forest trail. As I said earlier the fact that the road is now tarmac is a mixed blessing, it allows people to drive much faster than before which is not desirable in a national park, to slow the traffic down and try and reduce roadkill, they have put speed humps at intervals all along the road, accompanied by signs showing a leaping kudu. I watched quite a few drivers approaching the humps, certainly a few didn’t really slow down much at all and just drove over them as if they weren’t there, others slowed down a little bit and drove around the humps rather than over them, and some did slow down and go over.

 

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Yellow-rumped tinkerbird

 

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Hairy-breasted barbet

 

We would soon discover why the humps are essential, along the sides of the road is a narrow grass strip and in the evening animals like bushbuck come out of the forest to graze on these verges. As we struggling to spot various birds in the canopy of an extremely tall tree we noticed that a female bushbuck had come out of the forest and was walking along the road. I turned to take some photos of her, 

 

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Female bushbuck

 

after taking quite a few shots of her walking along the road, suddenly a car appeared moving much too fast, causing the bushbuck to panic, there was a bit of a bank on my side of the road, so she couldn’t easily get off back into the forest.

 

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At one point she was briefly running quite fast alongside the car, thankfully they didn’t collide,

 

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although this was the last thing I would have wanted to see, I was pleased to have got some photos with the antelope, the road sign and the car all in the same shot.

 

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If a driver does hit an animal they will simply jump out, grab the carcass and heave it into the back of their car, assuming it’s dead, if it’s not dead I guess they’ll try to finish it off if they have the means. Our guide told us this happens a fair bit and I’m not surprised, if there are no UWA rangers around to see what’s happening then why wouldn’t people do this, I presume some people do actually hit animals on purpose to get some bushmeat.

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pault

Love your collage. Good idea and quite a collection. 

 

Excellent stiluff all all round though. 

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inyathi

Chimp Habituation Experience

 

At the time of my last visit to Kibale chimp trekking was still in its infancy and you needed a lot of luck to see chimps, whereas today you’d be unlucky not to see them at all. Back in 97 after one entirely unsuccessful trek through the forest during which I had seen neither sight nor sound of a chimp, I signed up to do a second trek, this was slightly more successful in that I at least heard chimps, after tracking a group for a long time, we got close enough to hear loud screaming which we were told was a mother chastising her youngster, but we never got close enough to see anything at all of the chimps. It was decided that we wouldn’t catch up with them, so we gave up and left the forest without seeing any. Although my first attempt to see wild chimps had been a failure, I had seen them since and enjoyed a very good close encounter with a group in Mahale Mts NP in Tanzania, but that had been some years ago, so returning to Kibale Forest I could hardly turn down the chance for another try.

 

The question was whether to opt for a regular tourist trek or do the Chimp Habituation Experience or CHEX, everything I had read here on ST and elsewhere online and in the guidebook steered me in the direction of doing the CHEX. My impression was that with the CHEX I would be out in the forest for most of the day, would have much longer with the chimps, which would mean better photo opportunities and it would just be a better all-round experience. What I heard about the regular tourist treks didn’t make this option sound at all appealing, indeed it sounded like it could be a bit of a circus with sometimes as many as 40 people at a sighting, not my idea of a great wildlife experience and you only get an hour with the chimps.

 

However, I wasn’t entirely sure of what was and wasn’t involved with doing the CHEX and whether I would in fact find myself tracking basically the same chimps as the regular chimp trekkers and still end up in a circus. I assumed though that if that did happen it would only be for a brief time and I would get more time with the chimps without the circus, it seemed to me that the CHEX would be the better option. Really, my understanding of what goes on and how the CHEX relates to regular treks, was a little confused and it would turn out that I wasn’t alone in this. For some reason I’d got the idea that we might find the chimps and then while watching them, have a whole bunch of the regular chimp trekkers suddenly turn up to join us. 

 

If I had decided to the regular trek that would have given me time to do something else like perhaps look for Kibale’s star bird, the green-breasted pitta. Unfortunately, I think UWA and some guides are very slightly dishonest in making a little too much of this bird, in that to have a realistic chance of seeing one, you must go at the right time of year, which is between June and August and it seems to me they don’t make this clear enough. I might have been tempted to look for the pitta, as I’ve seen neither of the two African pitta species, but really in February there was no point, I don’t think guides should suggest looking for the pitta unless it’s prime time.

It seemed to me that I had probably made the right choice, unlike the regular chimp treks, the CHEX starts first thing in the morning and this is where staying at Primate Lodge is a huge advantage, you are already at Kanyanchu so you’re literally minutes away from the start point at the Visitor’s Information Centre. You don’t have to get up quite so early and can have a relatively leisurely breakfast albeit it was 05:30 and therefore in the dark, my companions on the trek were staying at Ndali Lodge which they told me was 45 minutes’ drive away, not quite so convenient. If you are doing the CHEX you will be out for most of the day, so you need to inform the lodge the day before so that they can prepare a packed lunch.

 

Even after the short briefing at the Visitor’s Centre I still wasn’t entirely clear what to expect. You can prior to setting off, hire porters to carry stuff for you, my 3 companions for the trek handed their little daypacks over to a couple of porters. I couldn’t personally see the point. if you are going gorilla trekking in Bwindi and you’re going up and down some pretty steep hills in difficult conditions and perhaps you’re quite old or just very unfit, I can see the point in having a porter, but there aren’t a lot of hills in Kibale and the terrains not that difficult. I tend to take the view that if I can’t carry it myself then I shouldn’t have brought it, I was carrying my two cameras one of them on a monopod which could double as walking stick if necessary, my binoculars, water bottle, packed lunch and a poncho, I’d left my bird book behind as I didn’t anticipate seeing many birds and if I did I’d just have to look them up later. As it turned out it was fortunate I didn’t see the need for a porter, my companions had grabbed the last two and one of them had to carry two packs. Besides not feeling I needed one, I also felt that taking porters was just adding more people to the ‘circus’ if it turned out there were loads of people at the sighting.

 

Led by ranger Gordon we were with the addition of the two porters a group of 7, we walked from the Visitor’s Centre down the track and out onto the main road and then crossed over into the forest on the other side. The strategy was to walk through the forest to several huge fig trees that were in fruit and stake out these trees to see if the chimps would come in for breakfast, this involved a considerable amount of walking and a fair bit of waiting. We felt that we were on the right track when we passed some chimp nests which looked like they were quite fresh.

 

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Chimp's nest

 

Waiting for some time by the first fig tree we came to, we had to conclude that the chimps were not going to come, so we carried on, just over an hour later we came to another huge fig this one was laden with fruit, there was a troop of grey-cheeked mangabeys and some red-tails in residence but no chimps. While we waited, we spent some time photographing the monkeys as bits of half eaten figs rained down from the tree.

 

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Grey-cheeked mangabey eating figs 

 

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Red-tailed monkey

 

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Grey-cheeked mangabey 

 

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After about an hour it again didn’t look like any chimps were going to come and having seen enough of the monkeys we moved on, after not too long we caught up with another group of CHEX tourists we sat and waited together while the rangers tried to see if they could find out where the chimps were. It was getting close to midday at this point and we were all somewhat frustrated at not having seen a single chimp just nests.

 

As mentioned earlier I wasn’t the only one who was a bit confused as to what was supposed to happen on the CHEX, talking to one of my companions, he explained, that they had been told that they would be taken into the forest at first light to where the chimps were nesting, and they would then watch them descend from their nests and follow them as they started their day in the forest and would spend as long as they wanted with the chimps. Well clearly this hadn’t happened, as it was almost midday and we’d not yet even seen a chimp. While we were sat waiting I overheard the other group talking and one of them seemed to suggest that the whole thing was a bit of a con, because according to what he’d read online you’re tracking the exact same chimps as the people doing the regular tourist treks. Eventually we were told that it was unlikely that we would find the chimps that we had been looking for, so we would carry on looking for some different chimps. I was almost beginning to wonder if I had been sold a bit of a con after all, my idea that I would get to spend a long time with the chimps and have plenty of photo opportunities hadn’t exactly panned out so far. Having said I was a bit confused I did know that the chimps that we had been looking for were only semi-habituated which is the point of the CHEX, so perhaps I should have anticipated that I might not actually see them, but I hadn’t.

 

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Waiting

 

The lunch provided by Primate Lodge was somewhat meagre comprising from memory a small wrap containing meat of some kind, a boiled egg and a banana, I was rather envious watching the people from Ndali Lodge pulling out a larger wrap and bits of chicken and so on, but I didn’t really mind too much, it just seemed that my lunch was a little ungenerous in comparison. The day hadn't quite turned out as I'd expected so far, or maybe hoped would be more accurate, as I hadn't been entirely sure what to expect.

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Botswanadreams
6 hours ago, inyathi said:

they had been told that they would be taken into the forest at first light to where the chimps were nesting, and they would then watch them descend from their nests and follow them as they started their day in the forest and would spend as long as they wanted with the chimps.

 

I think you got an unlucky day with the chimps. This description was exactly what we had on our CHEX. Our only problem was that we met in the morning a group of a bit drunk elephants making trouble in the forest. We had to avoid this and afterwards it took us an hour to find the chimps bag. The regular morning trek met us for one hour and as the chimps started to move on we followed them without the other people the whole day through the forest until the regular evening trek met our place again. We never saw the whole family of about 30 chimps together but had up to five or seven members of them on the ground around us.       

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inyathi

@Botswanadreams What you describe is more what I expected might happen, although my day didn't turn out quite like yours did, it fortunately wasn't over yet. 

 

After our final short wait, we walked on, a little while later we arrived back at the main road and crossed over into the forest on the Kanyanchu side, it soon became apparent that we were now going to find one of the fully-habituated groups. We soon found other tourists, they were clearly on the regular chimp trek, this suggest to me that perhaps we had finally located some chimps, but I couldn’t really see and feared this was the circus I was worried about. In fact, there weren’t quite as many people as I’d feared, and their time slot had evidently just ended so they were leaving anyway. After moving around trying to get a view I could see that there were indeed some chimps and I narrowly avoided getting peed on by one that was above us, however, almost as soon as we arrived the chimps all moved off, before we could get a proper view of any of them. We decided to follow, what it soon became clear was a family group of chimps but whenever any of them stopped they would quickly move off again as soon as we caught up making it very difficult to get good views or photos, we could see that one of them was a mother carrying a baby.

 

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They were moving at a fair pace so keeping up was difficult and I didn’t really get any other worthwhile photos. At a certain point when they started heading of downhill we stopped following, whether our ranger/guide Gordon had decided the chimps had had enough or that we wouldn’t keep up with them, maybe it would be difficult to keep following, I wasn’t entirely sure. But, we headed off in a different direction, as we were walking along one of the porters called out that he’d found a chimp that Gordon wasn’t aware of. What he had found was as we discovered two old mates who had left the group and gone off on their own for a bit of mutual grooming and male bonding.

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So human

 

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We spent a good deal of time with these two guys taking photos from different angles and just watching as they groomed each other or just relaxed, all the time that we were with them there was no else there, it was just me, three other tourists, Gordon and the two porters. A sign of just how habituated they were, was the fact that they were prepared to lie down and have a nap just a few feet away from us. It had been about 13:30 when we found these two old guys and after watching them for slightly over half an hour, my companions decided they’d had enough and were happy to leave. As the two old mates were just lounging around on the forest floor not really doing anything, I concluded that it was unlikely they would do anything very interesting, at least not for a good while and agreed that we should go. Had, they decided to stay longer I would have been quite happy to do so, and if we had been offered the chance to reconnect with the main group I would have been happy to do that, but that wasn’t suggested so we headed home.

 

I hadn’t really seen any birds at all during all our trekking but on our way back to Kanyanchu there happened to be a flock of crested guineafowls next to the track.

 

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Crested guineafowls 

 

On our way back, we passed a fairly steady stream of tourists coming into the forest, I was quite surprised to see several people who were so old and frail that they needed to have helpers holding their hands held all the way, I guess for some age is no barrier to doing what you really want to do.

 

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Porters next to big tree

 

By the time I got back to Primate Lodge it was around 15:00.

 

If I had been somewhat confused at the start, by the end I thought I had got the whole CHEX business worked out, at least how it was done when I did it, they may not necessarily always do it the same way, that I don't know. This is my understanding, there are some groups of chimps west of the main road that are partially habituated, and it was one of these groups that we had been tracking, with the objective I assume of helping to habituate them if we had found them. The likelihood is that unless we had found them feeding up in a huge fig tree, they would have run away from us, so had we succeeded and finding them but on the ground, we might not have got more than a glimpse if that as they ran off. UWA obviously know that people doing the CHEX aren’t going to be satisfied with just a glimpse of chimps, they want a proper sighting, to guarantee this once you’ve spent a proper amount of time searching for the semi-habituated chimps, they take you back over to the east side of the road where the habituated groups are. You are then taken to see one of these groups to ensure you get a good sighting, so my idea that the regular trekkers might join us was the wrong way around we would join them. The guy from the other CHEX group who thought we and the regular trekkers were all tracking the exact same chimps was entirely wrong or was he maybe he was half right, or there must be groups at different stages of habituation perhaps sometimes you are tracking the same group from the start. Quite why the rest of my group had been told they would see the chimps climb down from their nests I don’t know, I guess that could happen, but I would think very rarely, if you have a long walk to find them they're bound to be already out of bed, it struck me they’d been told a lot or romantic nonsense about what they were going to see. I think it’s unfortunate that there seems to be so much confusion about CHEX, I might have thought that I just hadn’t read enough about it and got my information muddled if the other people doing the CHEX had been also somewhat confused. I’d had a very enjoyable day, it was nice to take some good exercise and even if I didn’t see the semi-habituated chimps, I still saw some chimps in the end and even just seeing the mangabeys feasting on figs had been great, it would have been nice to spend time with the main group rather than just two of them, but you can’t have everything. It just would have been better to have proper understanding of what to expect, of our chances of finding the semi-habituated and the fact that we would then go to see the fully-habituated ones.

 

While I had opted not to have a porter and couldn’t really see the point at the start, by the end I could see some merits in doing so, in that it does make your walk that much easier and more comfortable and of course it does provide additional employment which is good for the park. But, I don’t think I had anything that I would have wanted anyone else to carry, I would always rather carry my water bottle myself, so I can drink when I want, without having to ask someone else to pass it to me, for a similar reason I wouldn’t want someone to carry my cameras.

Edited by inyathi

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dlo

I was pretty concerned for you after the part but it looks like the worked out fine in the end. I think the reason i'm so excited for chex is a couple I met in Rwanda that had done it and had the fortune of seeing the chimps hunt several colubus successfully. They had done 5 gorilla treks but had enjoyed chex the most. 

 

Obviously that's an extremely lucky day but I've seen chimps in Kibale before so I can just take the day as it comes. I have considered doing it at Budongo but I've heard nothing about the success rate there.

 

I'm also staying at Primate Lodge, you said the lunch was pretty poor, how was the food otherwise?

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inyathi

In the late afternoon it was decided to go out to an area on the edge of the forest on the boundary of the park, to see what birds we could find, this proved to be really pretty good for birds. We saw yellow-spotted barbet and white-breasted negrofinch or nigritta but I didn’t get any photos of the former and no worthwhile photos of the latter. The best I managed was passable shots of an olive-breasted sunbird and a great blue turaco, we’d seen quite a few great blue turacos but never well enough to get great photos.

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Olive-bellied sunbird

 

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Great blue turaco 

 

Besides the birds we saw red colobus and lots of red-tails, and the views were pretty good as well even if much of the land outside the park has eucalyptus growing on it.

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Red-tailed monkey

 

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The edge of Kibale National Park

 

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On the way back through a village on the edge of the forest we came across a stack of beehives, these hives are designed to be suspended from ropes which are placed around the villager's fields,  to protect them from elephants, when the elephants come to raid the crops, they run into the ropes which shakes the beehives, disturbing the bees, their angry buzzing frightens the elephants away. I have encountered African honey bees on a few occasions and they are not friendly, indeed they are very aggressive probably because they have a lot of predators, like for example honey badgers, if you disturb them you will get stung, elephants have various sensitive parts of their bodies where their hide is not that thick, where a bee sting can penetrate, for this reason they are scared of bees.    

 

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Beehives

 

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African blue flycatcher

 

Following our birding our guide Martin sprang something of a surprise by saying that a young birdguide friend of his Nicholas (Nicholas Majani Tugumisirize) who works as a site guide in Bwindi, had just arrived in town, and he would like to bring him along on our next leg up to Masindi and the Budongo Forest as an assistant. This was a complete surprise as he hadn’t mentioned this before, this idea made a lot of sense, there’s a big advantage in having a separate driver and birdguide and whenever we had been birding around Kibale we had a local guide as well as Martin and had had a local guide back at Semuliki. When you’re wanting to walk to find birds even just a long a road you don’t want to be constantly walking back to the car or to be we without a guide because he’s always running back to fetch the car. But, we hadn’t budgeted for a second guide, however, when it became clear that he would in fact pay his own way, it was agreed that he could come along. As we later found out, one of his clients who he’d guided at Bwindi, had asked him to guide them on a birding tour of Uganda, but he had declined because he’d never birded anywhere other than Bwindi or even really travelled anywhere else in the country. So, his objective was to come with us to visit new birding sites and also just see more of his country so that he would be able to guide birders outside Bwindi in the future.

 

Edited by inyathi

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inyathi

@dlo I always like to add some brief suspense:lol: I think maybe I was slightly unlucky with the chimps and not really knowing for certain exactly what was going on didn't help, it may be that if we had found chimps on the west side of the road, we would a perfectly good sighting, but as I'd never done the CHEX before, I could only compare it to the treks I'd done when I first came to Kibale and in Mahale Mts, I wasn't seriously dissatisfied, I guess I just would have hoped to see rather more chimps together and see some slightly more interesting interaction, to see them hunt would be amazing but I wouldn't have expected that much luck. 

 

The general food at Primate Lodge I thought was pretty good, breakfast was the usual choice of fresh fruit and cereals, with the addition of pancakes and then choice of eggs etc and toast and jam, and from recollection dinner was pretty good, again pretty standard fare with soup, followed by main of meat or maybe fish and I think there were veg options and then desert, as had been the case at Semliki Safari Lodge you were given a menu at breakfast to choose your lunch and then again at lunch to choose dinner. My complaint about the packed lunch for the CHEX was really just the portion size, it just struck me they could have provided a little more,  I may have forgotten that there was a small cake, there certainly was in the next packed lunch, the meat in the wrap was perhaps a little bit salty but not to the point of being inedible. It maybe that our guide had a chat to them and the next lunch was slightly better I don't know. As I say it was more the quantity than the quality particular compared to amount supplied by Ndali Lodge. 

 

I hope that I will get up to Budongo tomorrow, but I've not been chimp trekking there so I can't compare what the trekking is like. 

    

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inyathi

 

Driving and Birding through the Kingdom of Bunyoro

 

Day 8 of our drip would basically be a driving day leaving Kibale Forest and the Kingdom of Toro and spending almost all day on the road up through the Kingdom of Bunyoro to its old capital Masindi. Of course, we would try to fit in some birding on the way but even if we left very early we weren’t sure how much time we would have. Martin arrived at breakfast with Nicholas his new assistant and decided that before leaving Kibale NP we should visit the Sebitoli Gate the other side of the park from where we had been and bird for a short while there. Driving outside the park on the west side provides magnificent views of the Ruwenzori Mts. we stopped briefly at one site on the way to look for birds

 

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View of the Ruwenzoris

 

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Chubb's cisticolas 

 

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View of the Ruwenzoris

 

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Sebitoli is right at the north end of the park on the west side, marked on my map in post 35, once there we walked up the road passed the gate into the park, we found some good birds here as well as our first blue monkey since Semuliki and some red colobus and quite fresh signs of elephants which had evidently been feeding here.

 

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Black and white-casqued hornbill 

 

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Grey-throated barbets

 

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Female Petit's cuckooshrike

 

As we were leaving and back on the main road Nicholas proved his worth when we told Martin to stop, having thought he must have seen an interesting bird we were surprised to see that what he’d spotted was a savanna elephant bull in the edge of the rainforest.

 

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Savanna elephant

 

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Interestingly back in Toro-Semliki we’d seen a forest elephant bull on the edge of the savanna and now here we’d found a savanna bull in the edge of the rainforest. Quite a few savanna elephants must venture up to Kibale from QENP as the northeast boundary of QENP is not quite two miles at the narrowest point from the southern boundary of Kibale.

 

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Ross's turaco

 

We then stopped on a very noisy road bridge over a pretty jungle stream to look for birds. 

 

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Forest stream Kibale Forest

 

Besides a malachite kingfisher and a mountain wagtail, by a stroke of luck there happened to be a troop of red colobus there and I had great fun photographing and filming them as they leapt across the stream, had it not started drizzling I might have struggled to tear myself away, but we needed to get on.

 

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Uganda red colobus

 

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This bridge was pretty busy with a lot of cars and trucks passing by while I filmed this, creating a lot of traffic noise, but I edited that out in favour of the African emerald cuckoos that were calling in the background, we didn't see any of these birds, but they were calling constantly here and where we later stopped for lunch, Primate Lodge had supplied us with a packed lunch, we stopped on a forest track somewhere just  on beyond Kibale.

 

Reading through my old travel diary which I should have done before, I see that on the previous visit we had in fact done the Bigodi Swamp walk twice so at this point we’d done it 3 times and still not seen the papyrus gonolek. Martin was a very nice guy and a good birder, but his one fault was not knowing when to give up and how to strike the right balance between birding and driving, we wanted to see the birds but not if it meant always arriving late at the hotel/lodge. There were as we discovered a lot of papyrus swamps between Kibale and Masindi although sadly many have been burnt as people try to clear the land for farming. We stopped at a lot of these in a desperate attempt to try and find the blasted gonolek, but we had no luck though we did find the white-winged swamp warbler.

 

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Papyrus swamp 

 

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Martin and Nicholas searching for the papyrus gonolek

 

Nothing would dissuade Martin from looking for the gonolek he was determined to find it, but even with Nicholas's help we had no luck, we did see a few very nice birds though notably a beautiful grey-headed oliveback, but my damn autofocus messed up my shot of this little beauty, that might have been because I had the focus settings on my camera wrong, I don’t know, but it was extremely annoying. Part of the time while driving around outside Kibale we were driving on minor dirt roads through the tea gardens, in the photo above there are tea bushes growing right up to the edge of the papyrus, the rest of the time we were on a main road all the way. While the main road through Kibale may now be tarmacked, on up to Masindi it certainly wasn’t all the way, some quite long stretches were, but much of it still wasn’t when we drove it, but the Ugandans aided by the Chinese were certainly working on it. We passed a lot of roadworks along the way, for all I know they may have finished it by now, I’m sure anyone else making the journey from Kibale up to Masindi and on to MFNP in the near future, will find that the road is tarmacked almost all the way.

 

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Roadworks on the way to Masindi

 

This should cut the journey time quite markedly, the combination of the road and Martin’s determination to find the gonolek meant that we didn’t arrive at our destination the Masindi Hotel until sunset a tiny bit later than we would have wanted. Of course, if as a result of Martin's efforts we'd seen the papyrus gonolek we probably wouldn't have minded being a little late, for a driver guide having to keep your clients happy at all times is not an easy job.

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inyathi

The Masindi Hotel.

 

This hotel is one of those places that when you say to your travel agent that you want to stay there; their response is why? This attitude is rather unfair, as it might not be five stars, but it is a perfectly good hotel and is still to my knowledge really the only place to stay if you want to visit one of Uganda’s and perhaps East Africa’s top birding sites ‘The Royal Mile’ at the southern end of the Budongo Forest. Somewhere much closer to the forest would be better but I’m not aware of anywhere.    

 

The hotel has several claims to fame, it was originally built as a railway hotel back in 1923, it is close to the port of Butiaba on Lake Albert and back in colonial times you could take the train to Masindi then travel to Butiaba and board a boat which would take you up the lake to MFNP, where you could then boat up the Nile to Paraa. Anyone who has seen the classic film the African Queen and who’s visited MFNP will know that the parts of the film were shot there and on Lake Albert, and during filming the cast and crew stayed at the Masindi Hotel. Apparently, Katherine Hepburn loved her time there, but her co-star Humphrey Bogart and director John Huston didn’t, when not out filming they spent their entire time propping up the bar getting drunk.

 

The hotel bar has been known since the mid-50s as the Hemingway Bar, because of the hotels other claim to fame. Back in 1954 the author Ernest Hemingway chartered a plane in Nairobi to take him and his fourth wife sightseeing over Murchison Falls, the pilot apparently to avoid hitting a stork or some other bird, flew very low and clipped his wing on a telephone line causing the plane to crash somewhere near the falls. When the plane failed to arrive on schedule at Masindi Airport it was reported missing, but it was assumed that it may have landed on a park airstrip, however, a day later a message from Entebbe Airport confirmed the flight was missing, a BOAC plane that was in the region diverted and flew some 100 miles off course, to fly over the falls and search for them, the captain spotted the wreckage swa that the plane was largely intact and concluded that they could have survived, but saw no one. An RAF search plane was then sent up to look for them, and at same time the then warden of MFNP drove up to the area around the top of the falls in his Landrover, they found the wreckage but again saw no one. In fact, the pilot had performed an expert crash landing and they had all survived, by a stroke of luck one of the tourist boats on the Nile was in the area and picked them up. While the search parties were looking for them, Hemingway his wife and the pilot were unbeknown to them, sitting with their feet up on a tourist boat cruising down Lake Albert, enjoying a cold beer with the tourists. After they arrived at Butiaba another aeroplane was sent up to pick them up and fly them out, most unfortunately this plane crashed on take-off, but by some miracle they all survived again. They were then driven to Masindi where they were put up at the Masindi Hotel to recuperate from their injuries, hence the decision to name the bar after Hemingway. Having crashed in what was still quite a remote part of the world, where it took a long time for news to get out, it was initially assumed that Hemingway had been killed, back at his hotel in Nairobi he found himself reading his own obituary in the papers. Not perhaps quite as notable but Michael Palin also stayed at the Masindi Hotel on one of his TV Travel shows.

 

I didn't have time to photograph the hotel when we first arrived or the next day, but wanted to take some before leaving I had to settle for taking some shots in the half dark when we left the hotel. 

 

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The Masindi Hotel

 

I didn’t think that the hotel had really changed a lot since I had last stayed here, save for the fact that this time there wasn’t a flock of goats on the veranda. The city however, had grown significantly and was a lot busier, we were offered rooms at the front of the hotel which look out on to the car park, the other side of which is the main road. It was suggested that these rooms might be rather noisy, so we were shown some what I assume may be new rooms around the back, these rooms looked so small that you could barely swing a cat and looked like they would be far too hot. The rooms at the front despite the possible noise are much better, being a lot bigger, the rooms could perhaps be considered slightly spartan having a bare tiled floor with just a small rug by the bed, otherwise there was a table and chairs, a wardrobe, a TV and an ensuite bathroom. Much the same as in many an inexpensive hotel, and perfectly fine as we were only staying two nights and were really only sleeping in the rooms, we wouldn’t be at the hotel at all during the day. The food was really pretty good and the beers were cold, so we couldn’t complain.   

 

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I said this hotel is one of those places that when you say to your travel agent that you want to stay there; their response is why? But maybe that depends on your travel agent, it seems quite a few tourists stay here for one night on the way to MFNP.     

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inyathi

I said in my last post that the Masindi Hotel is the only place to stay if you are birding the Royal Mile, there are of course other hotels in the city, but I would think that Masindi Hotel as well as being the most historic, is much the nicest. I think most tourists who visit Budongo Forest don’t stay in Masindi at all, instead they stay at Budongo Eco Lodge which is in the northern Kaniyo Pabidi section of the forest where they offer chimp trekking or even do a day trip down to there from MFNP. The Budongo Eco Lodge which is run by the same company as Primate Lodge in Kibale, unfortunately it's not the best place to stay to bird the Royal Mile, just because it’s around 60 kms away, at least twice as far as Masindi is, this is not ideal when you want to start first thing in the morning, but, if you don’t mind that and were wanting to go chimp trekking as well as birding on The Royal Mile then you could stay at the Eco Lodge. if you do stay there you can also obviously bird in the area around the lodge and the Kaniyo Papidi area is noted for being the only place in Uganda to see Puvel’s illadopsis, it didn’t seem worth going there just for this bird. As in Kibale in Budongo they offer regular chimp trekking and CHEX, apparently the trekking here isn’t quite as reliable as it is in Kibale, but actually this could be an advantage because if you gamble and get lucky in Budongo, you should see the chimps just as well as you would in Kibale, but with far fewer other tourists. However we were here for the birds, we weren’t here to see chimps, they don’t do chimp trekking in this part of Budongo, however, there was quite a good chance that we might see some, as The Royal Mile was in fact the first place I ever saw a wild chimp.

 

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The Budongo forest is in the Kingdom of Bunyoro in the days before the British East Africa Company conquered the kingdom (see Part 1) and made it part of the Protectorate of Uganda, the Omukama (or King) Kabalega would process down this track through the forest to the stream at the end where he would bathe, hence it acquired the name “The Royal Mile” He also reputedly tried to escape via this track through the Budongo Forest while he was being pursued by the B.E.A.C. troops.

 

The Royal Mile is located between the Nyabyeya Forestry College and the Budongo Conservation Field Station and is in fact slightly over a mile in length. On both sides of the road for about 15-20 feet the understory vegetation is kept clear creating a beautiful avenue of trees, The Royal Mile is not only one of the best rainforest birding sites in Africa, but for me one of the most beautiful forest walks anywhere. After a second visit I would probably say this is one of my favourite places in Uganda, just because it’s so beautiful and besides the birds, there are a lot of red-tailed monkeys, blue monkeys, black and white colobus, chimps and numerous colourful butterflies.

 

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What makes The Royal Mile such a great birding site, aside from simply having some very nice birds, is that you’ve got the best of both worlds in that you are birding from a road, but one that is very much in the forest. With trees right up against the edge of the road, you are walking under the forest canopy, but with vegetation cleared on either side your visibility is so much better than on a forest trail, and although it’s a road there’s almost no vehicle traffic at all, just the occasional pedestrian. That’s not to say that the birding is too easy, the trees are very tall and seeing little birds right up in the canopy can therefore prove something of a challenge.

 

It’s still a bit of a drive from Masindi to the Royal Mile so we needed an early breakfast at the hotel, so we could set off while it was still dark. The road to Nyabyeya goes past the huge Kinyara Sugar Works, so most of the countryside that you pass through is cane fields, starting off before it’s light you don’t miss much on the way, there aren’t many birds to be seen. Although we knew that we would have a driver guide who knows his birds pretty well, we wanted a local site guide as well to help us out in the forest and is often the way these days we found one thanks to the internet. On our way towards the forest we stopped to pick up our guide Raymond, if you want to bird The Royal Mile and need a guide then get in touch with Raymond, he proved to be an excellent guide.

 

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Need a bird guide for The Royal Mile contact Raymond

 

Before entering the actual forest, we decided to have a look for a few forest edge/farmland birds first, we around amongst fields of cassava and millet and amongst small plantations of Caribbean pines.

 

 

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Caribbean pine trees at Nyabyeya, Budongo Forest

 

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White-thighed hornbill

 

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Budongo Forest

 

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Black-headed batis

 

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White-thighed hornbill 

 

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Lizard buzzard

 

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Black and white-casqued hornbill

 

We walked along the road reaching the gate into the forest around 09:00 into and carried on to the start of The Royal Mile we were excited to see a tiny kingfisher, but it turned out to be an African pygmy and not the African dwarf we’d hoped for, but it’s still a beautiful bird.

 

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African  pygmy kingfisher 

 

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The Royal Mile 

 

Walking further into the forest I was glad to be back at this magical place, I had fond memories of my last visit, in particular, seeing my first wild chimps which had been completely unexpected. On that trip having only heard chimps on my treks in Kibale, I feared I would leave Uganda without seeing any, but then we spent a morning birding The Royal Mile, walking down the road we could hear chimps calling and it soon became apparent that they were very close. We didn’t however think that we would see them, we were after all only there to watch birds we hadn’t paid to do any sort of chimp trekking, so we thought that if they weren’t visible from the road we wouldn’t be allowed to go and see them. In fact, after they had been calling for some time, our guide eventually asked if we wanted to see them, so we said yes, and he led us only a very short distance away from the road into the forest. There we found 4 chimps high up in the trees, it wasn’t the very best sighting, but that didn’t matter, all that mattered was seeing wild chimps for the first time. I wondered entering the forest for a second time if we would be lucky enough for lightning to strike twice.     

Foraging alongside the track as we entered The Royal Mile was a troop of olive baboons.

 

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Olive baboons 

 

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African pygmy kingfisher

 

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Rainforest tree

 

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African shrike-flycatcher

 

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We were the only birders there, apart from some officials who came down from the gate to talk to Martin, and the occasional local pedestrian, we didn’t really see anyone else, so I was very surprised when at around 11:25 after nearly 3 and a half hours of birding, I spotted a young mzungu woman cycling solo along The Royal Mile towards us and thought where did she come from? 

 

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Mzungu on a bicycle

 

We’d not seen her before, so she clearly hadn’t cycled passed us, she had to have started from the other end. At the point where The Royal Mile officially ends, there is a sign saying strictly no access, the road carries on from there through the forest to the Budongo Conservation Field Station, which is off limits to regular tourists, she could only have come from there.

 

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She couldn’t be a tourist like us, I concluded that she must be a student and either doing research there as part of some degree course or a volunteer of some kind on her gap year. During all the time that we had been birding the baboons that we’d seen on the way in, had remained in more less the same spot, seeing that she was cycling towards them, I watched through binoculars to see just out of curiosity how they would react. Suddenly 3 animals ran fast across the road in front of her, my immediate first thought was that they were baboons, just because I had been looking at and thinking about baboons, but then I thought hang on those were darn big baboons. By then more appeared and my brain registered that they were of course chimps, a whole family group ran across, I didn’t count how many there were.

 

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Common chimp crossing The Royal Mile

 

She must have had a very good view as they were just in front of her, but then based at the Field Station I’m sure she would have already seen plenty of chimps. If it hadn’t been for the mzungu girl on her bicycle it’s very possible that I would not have been looking the right way and we would not have seen them. Sometimes lightning does strike twice in the same place, this was the second unexpected chimp sighting of the safari, although as I seen them here at The Royal Mile before it was not as unexpected as the first sighting at Toro-Semliki had been.    

 

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Strangler fig tree

 

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Rainforest canopy

 

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The Royal delivered on the birds too, we might have dipped on the dwarf kingfisher, but as we continued walking Raymond heard one of its larger cousins the chocolate-backed calling. This was one of the birds we’d come for, it’s a Central and West African species, I’d not seen it here before or on my visit to Gabon. Although calling loudly the bird was not visible from the road so Raymond let us off along a forest trail, we didn’t have to walk very far but even so, it wasn’t at all easy to spot, and only showed it’s back to us.

 

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Chocolate-backed kingfisher

 

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African pied hornbill

 

Another target the tiny Ituri batis also put in an appearance right up in the canopy too high for a photo, besides birds this forest is a fantastic place for butterflies.

 

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Common forester

 

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Western red charaxes 

 

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Common palm forester

 

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Forest glade nymph

 

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Soldier commodore

 

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Yellow glider

 

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Sometime after 13:00 we reached the stream that is the official end of The Royal Mile. Sitting at this peaceful spot we enjoyed a nice picnic lunch supplied by the Masindi Hotel, @offshorebirder ) as we sat here, white-headed and black saw-wing swallows zipped around at high speed over the water dipping down to drink or perhaps to hawk for insects. They were moving far too fast to try and photograph, so I had a go at taking a short video, it's not hugely exciting but it captures a little something of this place.

 

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Stream at the end of the Royal Mile 

 

 

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Guides Nicholas and Martin

Edited by inyathi

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pault

Very good! One thing about birding is that it takes you to some very interesting places. I really like the look of the Royal Mile and the Masindi Hotel. Less impressed by burned out papyrus swamps. 

 

I told you every CHEX would probably be different - it’s one of those occasions when I am probably right, although distinguishing them from the taller tales may be tricky I admit. :D  Seriously, I think your co-trekker was right but wrong. They don’t go to the same place every day and with longer drives no way you can catch them near the nests (I agree with you it makes no sense to think you’d catch them still sleeping even if they nested very near to the ranger station but I think you can catch them early and near their nesting site - sometimes but our experience was that you’ll then have a hell of a job keeping up. I like the suspense - quite right to share your concern that way as 12 is a long time with no chimps. I would have been having dark thoughts too. I imagine whether you or the one hour visitors are finders or followers depends on circumstances

though.  We were definitely finders both days we went out, although on neither day did we track the group originally targeted due to elephant interventions.

 

I love it when you go somewhere I have been. Great information in here - a number of pennies dropped while reading. And of course the likes of the Hemingway side stories are perfect. Had just a nice ride to the office reading this. Just emerging to find the traffic was bad and I didn’t even notice!

 

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Treepol

@inyathiUganda is blessed with so many species of hornbills and kingfishers, what a great birding destination. I like the sound of the Royal Mile and the Masindi Hotel and have added both to my Uganda list.

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inyathi

 

 

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On our return walk, we found a beautiful Narina’s trogon.

 

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Narina's trogon 

 

Then somehow Raymond spotted a western tree hyrax emerging from a hollow high up in a tree, where a branch had broken off, perhaps that’s its home and it’s nearly always there I don’t know, I would certainly never have seen it if he hadn’t pointed it out.

 

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Western tree hyrax

 

We already seen quite a lot of monkeys along the way mostly blue monkeys and red-tails plus a few black and white colobus, as we got back towards the gate we saw even more, there seem to be good deal of commotion going on amongst the monkeys, they were evidently quite agitated.

My attempts to video the monkeys here weren’t quite as successful as at Kibale but I did get all three on film.

 

 

 

We soon found out what the commotion was about, climbing up into a tree right next to the road was a female chimp, some of the monkeys had evidently been mobbing her. She wasn’t bothered by them or us and gave us a nice view as she sat in the tree, The Royal Mile had once more proven to be fantastic place not only for birding but for seeing primates also.

 

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Female common chimpanzee 

 

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Budongo has fewer primate species than Kibale, it lacks red colobus and L’Hoest’s monkeys, but is certainly based on my experience on this trip a far better place to see blue monkeys, we had our best views of them here.

 

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Red-tailed monkeys, 

 

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Blue monkey

 

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Red-tailed monkey

 

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Blue monkeys

 

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Blue monkey feeding on figs

 

By the time we emerged from the forest it was around 17:30, we then birded for a while out in the open in the area around a local school.

 

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Budongo Sawmills Primary School,

 

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Eventually we had to tear ourselves away so as not get back to Masindi too late, when we came out of the forest I’d noticed a large white building in the distance, I must have seen it on my last visit but for some reason I didn’t recall it, when I asked Martin what it was, he said it was the old Polish church. A Polish church is not exactly what you expect to find on the edge of a Ugandan rainforest and whatever I might have known about it on my last visit, I’d since forgotten, so when I returned home I decided I should do a little research online into the interesting history of this church, which I marked on the second map in post 46.

 

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Our Lady Queen of Poland Catholic Church at Nyabyeya, Budongo Forest

 

Following the invasion and destruction of Poland by the Nazi and the Soviet Union at the start of WWII, the Poles established a government in exile in London. Soviet Policy was to de-Polonise the newly occupied territory, somewhere between 320,000 and 1 million Poles were rounded up by the NKVD and deported east to the Ural Mountains and beyond into Siberia. In 1941 some 300,000 were sent mainly to Kazakhstan, following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, the British government and the exiled Polish government, persuaded the Soviets to sign a peace treaty with the Polish government, this led to the Soviets offering an amnesty to many of the exiled and imprisoned Poles. From amongst these exiled Poles a 40,000-strong army known as Anders’ Army was formed by Wladyslaw Anders, they were allowed to leave the USSR and cross over into Persia (Iran), remarkably some 110,000 Poles were allowed to leave with them including some 36,000 women and children. Anders’ Army joined up with the British Army, to become Polish II Corp under British command, they fought with extreme courage in some of the major battles of WWII. The Polish and British governments were then left with the pressing concern of what to do with all of the other exiles, who were now refugees in Iran or India as some of them had been moved there. 

 

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The British came up with a plan, to move them to temporary resettlement camps in various territories around the empire notably in Africa, they would be able to stay in these camps until the war was over and it was safe for them to return home. In Africa camps were established in Kenya, Tanzania (Tanganyika), Uganda, Zambia (Northern Rhodesia) and Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia), remarkably one of the sites chosen for the Ugandan resettlement camps was a large area of cleared land at Nyabyeya in the Budongo Forest near Masindi. Local Banyoro people were employed to clear away the elephant grass and scrub that had grown up after the rainforest had been cleared. Six villages were established at Nyabyeya and this catholic church was built, the Poles soon settled into farming their new land, they were mostly women and children, since almost all of the young men had joined Anders’ Army. Life was very tough in what was distinctly unsuitable location for refugees from Poland, the Budongo Forest was still inhabited by elephants at the time which would emerge from the rainforest to eat their crops and there were leopards that threatened their livestock. The greatest danger though was disease and large numbers of them particularly children succumbed to malaria and amoebic dysentery. The Polish struggled on until 1948, at this point they were resettled mainly in the UK, Australia and Canada. All that remains to show for their time in the Budongo Forest is the restored church, which has become something of a pilgrimage site for Poles. 

 

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Polonia Semper Fidelis

Edited by inyathi

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lmSA84

Fascinating TR as always. Great insight into areas I wasn't aware of and their diverse history. 

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