Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Uganda Ringing Expedition
8th to 20th December 2008
Dean Backhouse
John Glazebrook
Mick Wright
Roger Buxton
Nathan Eluku
Malcolm Wilson

Setting off from Entebbe we had the usual ordeal of circumnavigating Kampala on roads, no tracks with traffic just everywhere. Our driver Baker did a sterling job of diving and darting into spaces with not the most nippy of vehicles, a 10 seater stretch Landcruser!

Even so birding in this environment is quite productive with Long-crested Eagles, Lizard Buzzards and Grey Kestrel watching patches of roadside scrub for the many fat rats which do very well here. White-throated Bee-eaters festooned the tangle of phone wires and Winding Cisticolas defended tiny scraps of rank grass in between truck washing bays.

Eventually we got clear of the desperate traffic and were soon driving through the magnificent Mabira Forest, which has so far had a stay of execution from the voracious appetite of the sugar cane industry.

Soon after Jinja we had a chance to drop a trap for a Long-crested Eagle which soon hit the trap, but for some reason flew off before a noose could do its work.
Also tried for a Lizard Buzzard, but the usual problem of a party of village kids coming out to watch made it impossible for the bird to come down.

We got to Kibimba rice scheme at 1600hrs and after checking in to rooms, went to find a good spot to set nets for the night.
There had been no rain these last 3 weeks and so many of the paddies were dry and it took a while before we settled on Block 14 which had a good flock of mixed waders. We set 3 lines over mud and started catching as soon as the light went.
We caught steadily till 0100hrs with 44 Wood Sandpiper and 10 Little Stint making up the bulk. One Wood Sandpiper was a retrap from November 2007.
On the way back to the accommodation we put up a Genet which gave great views as it ran along the track in front of us which also put up a few Swamp Nightjars.

We opened the nets at 0600hrs in the pre dawn and continued catching as dawn broke and hundreds of thousands of Red-billed Quelea came out of roost in droves. Cashing in on this were a pair of Peregrine of the Siberian race ‘calidus’ which gave us a spectacular performance of catching these little pests!
Soon the peace of dawn was shattered with the screams and shouts of the Quelea patrol, a mob of locally employed lads whose sole task was to stand all day in the middle of the ripening rice paddies armed with good vocal chords a long whippy palm frond, with a lump of clay at the end, and fire the clay projectile at flocks of Quelea which looked like landing in the rice. These missiles can be fired over unbelievable distances and with incredible accuracy, flushing the Quelea off and onto less guarded paddies. Occasionally a Quelea would collide with the lump of clay and all you would see was a ‘puff’ of feathers and nothing more, not a great loss in the broad scheme of things!

A flock of 43 Grey-crowned Crane came out of a roost somewhere and dropped into the site to the south, while at least 6 European Marsh Harrier plied up and down the bunds dropping in on unsuspecting prey.
We furled late morning and took a drive down to the dam and flushed a Spotted Crake across the track, seems this species has become scarce over the years as we used to catch them here in the past. On the dam were a couple of Osprey and just to the north we found 3 large paddies well inundated that had approximately 800 Black-winged Stilt, a flock of 30 Greenshank and the odd Spotted Redshank also 9 Garganey, a duck we also used to catch and from observations has greatly declined. In addition to this were small flocks of White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Ducks and to cap it all a Lesser Jacana! Ok this is where we were coming next!

Coming back for lunch we spotted a Lesser Kestrel on a phone wire and so dropped for it, but the bird had fed well and showed no interested in rodent fare after all the dragonflies in the area.
In the afternoon before opening we came across a track with dozens of Red-throated Pipits feeding on something good. On closer inspection they were picking up rice seeds and bits of broken rice spilt from a couple of tractors and trailers that had been running up and down full of harvested rice.
Here was an opportunity, so we set a couple of single panel nets along the track and sat back and watched. In no time at all, the pipits came back onto the track and we started picking off one’s and two’s and after an hour had 8 Red-throated Pipits and a couple of Yellow Wagtails.

We opened at 1600hrs and continued to catch mainly Wood Sandpiper and Little Stint. The catch rate had slowed from the previous day as water was draining off the mud and so we had time to put up a nightjar net. Before we had walked back to the ringing camp, the ipod had done its trick and pulled in a cracking adult male Swamp Nightjar.
The best though was when after a string of ringing Common Snipe had been ringed, Mick pulled out a bird and with mild surprise identified a Jack Snipe!
Not a great rarity in the UK but the first one I have ever seen in Africa and a new distribution record.

Opened first thing and picked off a few Painted Snipe, Wood Sandpiper and Little Stint and Ringed Plover. After breakfast we set off along the main road to find some raptors and soon came across a Long-crested Eagle. Getting the trap under the bird was tricky, people came out to watch of course but these birds are sometimes so tame you can walk underneath the pole ther’e sitting on, as in this case. However despite the bird showing interest, it refused to drop to the trap.
We went through a patch of forest where Black and White Casqed Hornbills glided over the road. Sadly the forest was fast disappearing with obvious signs of the absence of the larger more valuable timber trees taken.

Back at Kibimba we had a go for the Red-throated Pipits again and got three birds and 3 yellow Wagtails despite the stiff breeze. We had a look round this huge place in search of a nice wader concentrations and found a pair of Spotted Redshank and a Black-headed Gull in one paddy as well as a European Roller and a Montague’s Harrier.

After lunch we set two big lines across fairly deep water each end of the paddy with some 800 Black-winged Stilt in between. The idea was to go for duck such as Garganey which would prefer this deeper water to feed in.

As dusk approached we had caught a few waders but the stilt were not moving, being notoriously difficult to catch our best hope was if they began moving with the moon. A Black-headed Heron flew into the net and Nathan dived in to get it, quite a handful but he did well and it was duly ringed by John.
At midnight we realised we were not going to be busy and had caught a few of the usual as well as 5 Long-toed Plover and a pair of Spurwing Plover. A Barn Owl was using the poles to perch on as it watched us extracting or getting stuck in the mud!
We decided to shelf the duck and stilt catching operation and set up on a new site for the last session that had just been rotivated where a huge concentration of Intermediate and Little Egret were feeding on beetle or cicada grubs. Also cashing in on this freshly revealed food abundance were White-winged and Whiskered Terns. Here we found Ruff, good numbers of Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Glossy Ibis and Open Billed Storks.
We caught fairly well with a run of the usual painted Snipe, Ringed Plover, Wood Sandpiper as well as a Ruff and Common Pratincole.

We set off early for the Magic Garden at Ggaba allowing time to drop a trap for raptors. This predictably was a Long-crested Eagle on a telegraph pole set back in a shamba and by usual standards a piece of cake. However with the trap right under his nose he looked keen for a while but eventually settled on an item not so trap bound and nailed a small rat 10m from the trap!
The next had the bird on the trap but did not try very hard to get the mouse and took off for some unknown reason before it could work a noose round its leg.
We spotted a real gem in the form of a Red-necked Falcon which was sat up in a big old palm tree but in a yard full of children, we had also released our Quelea bait from Kibimba which would have far out succeeded the mouse as a lure.

We got to Ggaba which is where David Pearson’s ringing site used to be in the 50’s when he taught at Makerere University and where he did a lot of pioneering work on Garden Warbler moult.

The Magic Garden is a sight for sore eyes, carefully planned and landscaped by our host Roger, it is a profusion of awesome colours and every kind of tropical shrub buzzing with dozens of sunbirds!
We soon set 5 x 60’ and 3 x 40’ before Kathy came out with the G&T’s on the veranda which had a commanding view of Lake Victoria. We got a few birds before dark including a Green Crombec, Yellow-throated Leaflove and last thing an adult male Shikra. African Hobby’s were hunting in the dusk as we furled.

Opened at 0600hrs and first round got a Black-headed Gonolek and a huge adult female African Goshawk. During the morning we caught a good varety of birds from Willow Warblers, to Snowy-headed and White-browed Robin-chats, Pygmy Kingfisher and 5 species of Sunbird. We were taunted with a large family flock of Ross’s Turaco flying across the garden but never low enough to get caught. African Grey and Meyer’s Parrots called from the nearby stand of Albizia trees.

We had to get on the road to set nets this afternoon at a new site in Budongo Forest and so got on the road just before lunch. On the way we had two more Long-crested Eagles ON trap, but again the nature of this beast is to shuffle on its tarsi and flatten the nooses.
Observations included Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles and 2 grasshopper Buzzards a very encouraging sign as we this was to be our main quarry in Murchison Falls National Park.

We got to Busingiro in Budongo Forest and got 6 x 60 and 40 x 2 along one of the perfect transect lines needing the minimum of clearance to make a perfect net-ride. First round we got a rush of birds mostly White-throated Greenbuls with Scaly-breasted Illadopsis, Eastern Forest Robin, Chestnut Wattle-eye and Olive Sunbirds closed by 1730hrs.

Opened at 0550hrs, a bit too early for my liking, as we had caught a bat which had chewed through a shelf string to liberate itself, but it’s hard to keep a good trainee down and Nathan was just that. We took a good catch this morning with Brown Illadopsis, Red-tailed Bristlebill, Dwarf Kingfisher, Little Greenbul and a stunning male Jameson’s Wattle-eye added to the list of species.
Around the very comfortable ringing camp we had Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher and Black-capped Apalis and calling Chocolate-backed Kingfisher which are indicators of the association this forest has with the great Ituri Forest in the Congo. Other examples of this are White-thighed Hornbills flying over camp and the Ituri Batis which is not a bird easily seen here. We also had a Honey Buzzard over.

We set off at 1030 for the Nile and our camp for the next 3 days. On the way we had a Grey Kestrel which wouldn’t sit for us and a Western banded Snake Eagle which came to the trap, hit it then was off! Also dropped for a Brown Snake Eagle but too hot for the mice. Observations included 4 Bateleur, 3 Wahlberg’s Eagle and a Montague’s Harrier. Just before the camp we found a Dark-chanting Goshawk and got it on the trap but flushed off continually by cyclists!

Set the line of nets along the path at Nile Safari Lodge and got a few birds before dark from Willow Warblers to White-browed Coucal! Before dusk we set a net along the track and with the ipod, caught a beautiful adult male Long-tailed Nightjar.

Opened at 0600hrs and got hit by a Village Weaver flock which is one way focusing one to the days tasks! These birds are nothing but trouble! Hissing, biting, grabbing and generally very unpleasant things to extract from nets, especially when you have 50+!
When things calmed down we began catching a more pleasant array of species such as Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Spotted Morning Thrush (including a 6 year old retrap) and a spectacular adult male white morph Paradise Flycatcher. Andy the fishing guide had arrived at 0700 to take Roger upto the falls for a days fishing for the mighty Nile Perch.
Before lunch we took a drive to the top of the falls looking for Grasshopper Buzzards, and found an adult male Pygmy Sunbird, this was a lifer for me, and is not common in these parts being restricted to arid savannah around the Sahel and moving into Uganda during the dry season.
Other observations were a group of Abyssinian Ground Hornbill and a group of Buffalo, but NO Grasshopper Buzzards!! Conditions were ok, there were burnt areas which is what this species comes all the way here for from the Sahel, so maybe we were too early?

At the falls we counted a flock of approximately 80 Rock Pratincole wheeling around the top of the falls and stood mesmerised by the sheer violence of this awesome river as it thundered through an 8m gap! Above the falls there were a few Steppe Buzzards lurking around the entrance to the small caves where thousands of bats roost and where upto 6 bat Hawk can be seen at dusk and dawn.
On the way back we noticed quite a few Harriers, mainly Marsh and Montague’s.
Back at camp opened at 1600 and got among others a Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Black-billed Wood and Vinaceous Doves and a Nubian Woodpecker.
Andy and Roger returned triumphant having bagged a brace of Perch of 28kg and 38kg.

North Bank
At 0700 we crossed over with Andy who was waiting for clients and avoided the old ferry, always a tense affair with regular breakdowns mid stream! And set off via a sandbar which had 60+ African Skimmer that all took wing a flew around the boat, often ‘skimming’.
We set off on the Buligi Circuit and got a few of the specials, Rufous Sparrow, Chestnut-backed Sparrow Weaver, Black-billed Barbet, Lesser Grey and Woodchat Shrike, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Black-headed Plover, Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle an adult male Pallid Harrier, 8 White-backed Vulture and 3 Osprey. Sadly there were no Shoebill at the usual spot so the pressure was on now to find them with one option left!
At last we found a single Grasshopper Buzzard, too far to drop a trap for and so resigned ourselves to the fact that they had not come in. the best count for this species was this month the previous year with 300 on one burn site.

We spotted a few Giraffe here of the Rothchild race as well as a few lone bull Elephant, but no Lions!
We had a go for a Verreaux’s Eagle-owl, a family group of 3 birds were sat up in a large Kegilia tree but refused to drop, only bob and look curiously from within the tree.
Other wildlife seen included lots of Oribi, Side-striped Jackal, Jackson’s Hartebeste and Warthog.
We crossed back to the south bank in time to open at 1600hrs where among other birds got the 3rd Yellowbill for the site.

At 0700 the next day we got picked up by Andy in the boat and set off down river to the Delta on Lake Albert in search of the elusive Shoebill. On the way we saw lots of huge Nile Crocodiles and Hippos which erupted from the water in front of us. All the classic habitats were devoid of the large grey bird and now the pressure was really mounting!
But then at noon just before reaching the delta I spotted one about a mile off ahead. We all got cameras ready and quietly floated up to the bird which stood motionless, listening for lungfish.
We manovered ourselves into position and watched this mammoth bird, so focussed on listening for its quarry, all quietly euphoric and elated at finding this ancient and vague relative of the pelicans.

Kanyo Pabidi

After lunch we made our way back to Budong Forest via the park and the next site of kanyo Pabidi. It was hot and still with little moving and made good time to KP where we set 8 x 60 and 4 x 40 catching Eastern Forest Robin, White-throated and Yellow-whiskered Greenbuls and Olive Sunbirds before furling.

Opened at 0630hrs and through the morning got a variety of new and retraps including Fire-crested Alethe, Rufous Flycatcher Thrush and the usual run of Greenbul species.
Three of the guys went Chimpanzee trekking this morning and so left three of us to run the slow shift during the heat of the day, however we caught well up to the rush at 1700hrs with a stunning White-tailed Ant-thrush.
The others returned in the late afternoon having trekked many kilometres in the forest in search of the Chimps only to draw a blank. Such are the habits of this primate in the dry season as they travel far and wide in search of fruit which is more readily available in the wet season.

Opened again at 0630 to the blood-curdling screams of Tree Hyrax evoking primevil emotions in the gloom of the forest!
On the way back from opening we found a late returning Wood Owl which had hit the morning commuter rush and was currently being mobbed by a riot of small birds.
Through the day we continued to come up with surprises and one of which was a spectacular Blue-breasted Kingfisher. This large west African kingfisher just reaches into east Africa here in Western Uganda and like many species in Budongo is an indicator of how it is semi contiguous with the guinea-congo basin rainforest biome.
There was a second expedition to reach the Chimps and the team returned late morning and what a find! Not only did they find the chimps but also witnessed a kill of a Black and White Colobus monkey! This is a very rare and spectacular event which few people ever see. Usually the hapless creature is caught and torn to pieces by the dominant males whilst the monkey is still living. It is quite gruesome and particularly shocking to see such violence from beasts which share 98.7% of our genes! Needless to say we have made modest progress when it comes to dietary needs.

During the afternoon we continued to get more birds and one in particular
requires special mention here as there are birds and birds and this particular creature really has sock-blowing capabilities, a Narina Trogon.
A party of tourists had just returned from trekking and were shown the bird resulting in some impressive camera equipment taking a salvo of images.
After the Trogon, a Dusky Blue Flycatcher was caught and as enthusiastic as one can get over this species, it just did not educe the same reaction!
We carried on till dusk catching a few more Eastern Forest Robins, Cameroon Sombre Greenbul and a Yellow-spotted Barbet. Sadly we got the only Green Twinspot of the trip which had sadly been attacked by something, probably a rodent of some sort.

We couldn’t afford another mornings netting as people had to get flights in the early afternoon so we set off at 0700 and made good time till we spotted a Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle sat up on a pylon in a marsh. I walked/crawled the trap in and managed to get it right under the nose of the bird and for a hopeful minute got a good response of bobs. However that’s all that happened! Often in overcast and cool conditions birds of prey are reluctant to come to a trap and sit tight not feeding until its hot again.

After an hour or so we spotted a Long-crested Eagle on a telegraph pole in difficult conditions between two villages! I got a trap out whilst Baker shouted to approaching pedestrians that there was a snake and not to approach! I walked the trap right underneath the bird, dropped it and crossed the road to watch. It took about 20 seconds for the bird to spot the mouse, then lots of bobbing and after another 20 seconds launched itself down onto the trap.
Then another 20 and I could see a foot caught which eventually alerted the bird to its predicament and tried to fly off.
Mick ringed the bird which was a female and in its second year just starting its primary moult. A few photographs and then it was released to the befuddlement of the gathering crowds!

Next stop was Entebbe and farewells after a very pleasant and thouroughly enjoyable trip.

Species totals of new birds

8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Total
Black-headed Heron 1 1 2
Knob-billed Duck 1 1
African Goshawk 1 1
Shikra 1 1
Long-crested Eagle 1.20th
Greater Painted-snipe 10 4 4 1 1 20
Collared Pratincole 1 1 2
Long-toed Lapwing 5 5
Spur-winged Plover 3 3
Common Ringed Plover 7 1 4 12
Jack Snipe 1 1
Common Snipe 7 6 4 17
Common Greenshank 1 1
Wood Sandpiper 33 9 5 9 1 57
Little Stint 10 35 5 50
Ruff 1 1
African Mourning Dove 1 1
Vinaceous Dove 2 2
Black-billed Wood-Dove 1 2 3
Blue-spotted Wood-Dove 4 1 5
Yellowbill 1 1
White-browed Coucal 1 1
Swamp Nightjar 1 1
Long-tailed Nightjar 1 1
Speckled Mousebird 1 1
Narina Trogon 1 1
Malachite Kingfisher 1 1
African Pygmy-Kingfisher 1 5 6
Dwarf Kingfisher 1 1
Blue-breasted Kingfisher 1 1
Yellow-spotted Barbet 1 1
Scaly-throated Honeyguide 1 1
Nubian Woodpecker 1 1
Buff-spotted Woodpecker 1 1
Sandmartin 1 1
Barn Swallow 1 1
Red-throated Pipit 8 4 12
Yellow Wagtail 2 2 4
Dark-capped Bulbul 2 3 5
Little Greenbul 2 3 5
Cam. Sombre Greenbul 1 1
Yellow-whiskered Greenbul 1 3 4
Yellow-throated Greenbul 2 2
White-throated Greenbul 18 1 9 3 31
Red-tailed Bristlebill 1 3 1 5
Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush 1 1 2
White-tailed Ant-Thrush 1 1 2
Brown-chested Alethe 2 2
Fire-crested Alethe 1 1
Tawny-flanked Prinia 1 1
Yellow-breasted Apalis 1 1
Gray-capped Warbler 1 1
Grey-backed Camaroptera 1 1 2
Olive-green Camaroptera 1 1
Eurasian Reed-Warbler 1 1
Green Crombec 1 1
Northern Crombec 1 3 4
Green Hylia 1 1
Willow Warbler 1 1 1 1 4
Dusky-blue flycatcher 2 2
Forest Robin 5 3 8
White-browed Robin-Chat 2 1 3
Spotted Morning-Thrush 3 3
Red-backed Scrub-Robin 1 1
Chestnut Wattle-eye 1 1
Jameson's Wattle-eye 1 1
Red-bellied Para-Flycatcher 2 2
African Paradise-Flycatcher 1 1 2
Scaly-breasted Illadopsis 4 1 5
Brown Illadopsis 1 1
Green-headed Sunbird 1 2 3
Eastern Olive Sunbird 3 1 1 1 1 7
Olive-bellied Sunbird 2 4 6
Red-chested Sunbird 2 5 7
Variable Sunbird 4 4
African Yellow White-eye 2 2
Black-crowned Tchagra 1 1
Black-headed Gonolek 1 1 2
Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike 1 1
Little Weaver 2 2
Spectacled Weaver 1 1
Village Weaver 1 1 2
Yellow-backed Weaver 3 3
Cardinal Quelea 4 4
Red-billed Quelea 1 1 2
Black-rumped Waxbill 1 1
Brimstone Canary 1 1
Day totals: 71 72 33 18 15 48 24 44 10 3 15 24 377
Total species = 87

Additional species that were retraps:
Yellow-breasted Apalis
Brown Twinspot
Collared Sunbird
Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird
Snowy-headed Robinchat
Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu
Rattling Cisticola
Puvel’ Illadopsis

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