Safari!

Last weekend, we travelled to Queen Elizabeth National park in the far west of Uganda.  This was my second safari, and was far more perilous than the first.  Much of the danger could be attributed to the fact that it had rained all morning, which meant the dirt tracks were washed out in many places.

The tracks are easy to find when they're flooded

The mud seemed to exert contradictory powers over vehicles.  Sometimes, it was slippery. causing spinouts that would have been unsettling even in a vehicle that had working seatbelts.  At other times, it acted as a magnet, trapping vehicles and splattering itself all over the unfortunate trespassers.

Looking out the top of our diagonally positioned vehicle

If we were to face death during the morning (an unlikely prospect), it was far more likely to be at the hands of these roads than any deadly animal.  Our only mammal sightings on the early morning drive were antelopes (kob and waterbuck), buffaloes, and two elephants casting mud on themselves on the side of the road outside the park (it was still too dark for the pictures to be very telling).

Uganda Kob

Because I’d been on safari once before, however, and had gotten over the giddiness of seeing some of the megafauna one hopes to see while in Africa, I was better able to appreciate the ridiculously diverse birdlife in the park.  I’m about to list some of the birds we saw, so if you’re not interested in birds, skip down to the next picture.  If you are an avian enthusiast, sorry I’m not linking to the wikipedia article for EVERY bird.

Among the birds we saw were: guineafowl, Senegal thick-knee (I’m pretty sure that’s what they were), African spoonbill, some brightly-coloured weavers, Goliath heron, Egyptian geese, yellow-billed stork, cormorants, hammerkop, pelicans, a few different egrets, African fish eagle (it almost looks like a bald eagle), and of course, vultures.  There were others, but I either forgot about them, or couldn’t identify them (more to the point, a guide didn’t identify them).

They look harmless in this picture, but one almost charged the car in front of us

The original schedule was to go straight from the drive to a boat ride along the Kazinga channel.  Because of all the epic vehicular struggles, we were well behind schedule.  Normally I wouldn’t worry about such a thing here, but when we arrived, we found that the boat was the one thing in Uganda that departs on time.

Monkeys perched atop a tree. I think they're Vervets

Missing the morning boat was actually something of a relief as it afforded us a chance to break for lunch, and to walk around a bit (we had been in the car since roughly 04:00).  We passed up the posh safari lodge and went to a nearby rest camp/hostel to eat.  Apparently it was also mongoose lunch time.  Cheeky buggers…

A flock of mongeese

I think it must be a universal rule of safaris that boat trips are more fruitful (in terms of wildlife-watching) than game drives.  When you think about it, this makes sense: we humans are just as dependent on water as our Kingdom Animalia comrades, and we tend to populate coastlines and major rivers.  Similarly, all the animals flock to the shores of the Kazinga channel (which connects Lakes George and Edward), especially in the hot afternoon sun.

Don't worry; no egrets were harmed in the process.

Buffaloes, cormorants, yellow-billed storks and others, peacefully co-existing. Click for larger picture

Of course, as luck would have it, my camera battery died just before our first lion sighting of the day, and before a timid but decisive confrontation between a few elephants and a herd of buffalo.  If you want to get a sense of just how close we were able to get to lions that afternoon, or to see elephants displacing buffalo from the water, you might be able to check out our friend Liz’s facebook album.

The drive back from QENP to Mbarara, where we stayed that night was beautiful, with crater lakes and tea fields aplenty.  The bus ride from Mbarara to Kampala the following day was African travel at its worst, but I think I’ve said enough for one post.

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