Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Birds of Uganda – Book Review

Whether you are a visitor to Uganda or a resident, there is undoubtedly one aspect of the country that most people notice, and that’s the birds. Uganda boasts over 1000 species and with so many different birds flitting about, the identification process can be overwhelming, especially for a novice.  Field guides do offer a good reference, but nothing can beat a photograph for capturing all the little details and helping distinguish what just whizzed past you.

Birds of Uganda is full colour photographic book that is intended as a companion to your field guide. The book is a helpful reference as well as a lovely book to grace your coffee table.  Authors Quentin Meunier and Sherry McKelvie have invested a lot of passion into creating this book and that is clearly visible on each and every page.

 The 412-page book features 900 images of 280 different species of birds.  The basic concept of the book is to give an introduction to Uganda’s birdlife and is intended to be used alongside a field guide.  The book begins by outlining the major birding sites and wetland areas throughout Uganda.  Following that, each species featured in the book is represented by several photographs and captioned with brief descriptions.  The names of the birds are listed on each page in six languages, English, Latin, French, German, Spanish and Italian, with Japanese, Mandarin and Russian translations at the back of the book.  The index also includes the six languages which makes this such a great reference for so many people.

What I find so enjoyable about the photos, is that they showcase the birds in different situations - whether it be in flight, fishing, eating or a specific behaviour typical of that species. For me that’s what makes the book so spectacular.  If you’re in the field watching a bird long enough, you will experience what is on the pages of the book.  The images get close up and show detail that really will enrich your birding experience.  As a birder myself, I find Birds of Uganda to be a visual feast for the eyes.  Although I can identify many of the species in the book, I enjoy the moments that it has captured. The book is great to leaf through and indulgence in the sheer beauty of birds.   The next time I gazed through my binoculars, after looking through the book, I saw details about birds I had not noticed before.

Industry professionals are eagerly anticipating the book.  I spoke with Mr Sam Mugisha of BIC Tours, who caters especially for Japanese clients.  He is very excited about the release of the book and said “he is delighted to have a bird book on Ugandan birds that is aimed at increasing Bird Tourism in Uganda, and even more pleased that it will have the names of the birds in 9 languages, including Japanese, Mandarin and Russian!”  The book is a beautiful visual representation of the diversity that Uganda has to offer and will be something that many people will take pleasure in owning.

I'm not into birds you say? Well, there is no better starting point than this book!  Once you flip through the pages and see the vast array of colourful beauty of the avian species living around you, I can assure you that you may start to have a whole new inquisitive reaction as to what is making the branches on that tree in your garden move.  Or, what bird is singing that beautiful song at first light every morning. Birding is an activity that can be enjoyed by anyone, of any age, anywhere you go.

Birds of Uganda is a well presented book and will no doubt be in great demand.  It makes for a perfect gift, souvenir or a companion on your safari.  Books are expected to hit store shelves early in 2015 and will be available from most bookshops or can be ordered directly from Sherry +256 772 200 950

Friday, January 30, 2015

Bakers Lodge - Murchison Falls NP

For nearly a decade, Exclusive Camps and Lodges have been well-known for offering high quality lodges in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP (Buhoma Lodge) and Ishasha, Queen Elizabeth NP (Ishasha Wilderness Camp).  Recently, their newest addition has opened its doors in the ever popular Murchison Falls NP and it is no surprise that it boasts the same “wow” factor as the other lodges.  Situated on the south bank of the mighty Nile River, guests can sit at eye level to the river and watch as it gently flows by.  The proximity to the Nile River is what sets this lodge apart from all others.  All that lies between the lodge and one of the most famous rivers of all time is sprawling grass and large shade trees.  Bakers Lodge offers a Nile River experience like no other.

The lodge is named after the British explorer Samuel Baker, who is famous for his exploration of the Nile.  Late in the 1800’s Samuel and his wife Florence spent time around the area during their expedition of the river.  Samuel Baker was the first European to view and subsequently name the Murchison Falls.  In keeping with this theme, the decor of the lodge is reminiscent of the exploration era.  Wood, leather and canvas are abundant in the main lodge area which is a large wooden deck raised up off the ground.  There are several large sofas and chairs to relax in and enjoy the view, read a book or just to sit and contemplate just where you are in the world.  A large portion of the main lodge is covered with a thatch roof with an open air deck on each side.  The bar stocks wines and a selection of spirits as well as water, soda and local beer which is kept cold via their eco friendly solar powered energy system.

Accommodation at Bakers Lodge is individual cottages elevated off the ground.  The very spacious en-suite cottages have large netted windows on all sides for an open airy feeling.  Each cottage is positioned with consideration of privacy from others, has a wooden deck off the front and a view of the river, a great place to sip on your morning cup of coffee or tea.  The cottages are furnished with wooden furniture, a writing desk and chair, beds with side tables, lockable safe, and an open wardrobe for clothes and is lit with solar lighting.

The large netted windows on the front of the cottage roll up for an unobstructed view of the river.  The beds have been designed to sit up in comfortably to enjoy the view.  I sat on my bed for quite some time with my binoculars, enjoying the bird life and the view while listening to the grunts of hippos.  I felt like I was watching a large HDTV and had to pinch myself that what I was watching was real.  It was awesome!

The cottages are self contained with a large bathroom, flushing toilet and running water.  Double sinks sit on top of a spacious wooden table with a mirror hanging above.  The shower is open and faces the view so while you are washing off the dust of the day, you can revel in the amazing view.  Hot water in the bathroom is provided by a solar energy system.

Every evening, just before sunset a fire is lit between the main lodge and the river.  It’s a great place to sit with a cold drink, watch the last of the day light fade away, reflect on your day, watch the stars in the sky slowly come to life and cherish another day in Africa.  The campfire is a great place to interact with other guests and swap safari stories.  The ever attentive staff is never far away to take your drink orders so you don’t have to leave the magic and the ambiance of the fire.  Once dinner is ready, the staff show you to your table, top up your drinks and begin the dinner service.

The food at Bakers Lodge was nothing short of amazing.  All of the meals we had were delicious and plentiful.  We started our mornings with a wake up call at our cottage followed by a freshly brewed cup of coffee on our verandah.  As we sat and enjoyed the dawn of a new day, many species of birds were fishing and hunting in the nearby wetland next the river while agama lizards chased each other to protect their territory on the ground and in the trees around us.  Breakfast is served in the main lodge and cooked as per your order along with fresh fruit, cereal, cold meats and cheeses, coffee, tea and fresh juice served buffet style. We had our three course lunch al fresco in the shade of a large tree on the deck of the main lodge.  As the gentle breeze blew we enjoyed both the view and the food.  After some sundowners around the fire, we had a four course dinner under a blanket of stars on the deck.  As we savoured a salad course, soup course, main course and dessert, we talked about our day and made plans for the next while listening to the night sounds of crickets, frogs, hippos.  The dinner atmosphere at Bakers Lodge was magical and a perfect way to end a day.

Getting to Bakers Lodge, you have a choice of routes once you reach Masindi town which is 215 kilometres north of Kampala.  The most direct route is to enter Murchison Falls NP from the Kichumbanyobo gate which takes you through the south side of the park through the Kaniyo Pabidi forest.  A longer but more scenic route passes through Budongo forest before descending into the rift valley next to Lake Albert.  This route gets you to the lodge without entering the national park as Bakers Lodge sits just outside of the Bugungu gate.  The lodge is well marked with signposts at the entrance, so it’s easy to find.

Murchison Falls National Park is the largest park in Uganda and offers plenty of activities for visitors.  The park is home to elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, giraffe, hyena, jackal, hippos and the Nile crocodiles which are reputed to be “huge”.  The park is well known for its diverse bird population, including the most sought after and unique resident, the shoebill.

A variety of boat excursions can be done on the Nile river.  The waterfall cruise travels up the Nile River to the base of Murchison Falls which is a spectacular sight.  Along the way you can view many species of birds, mammals near the shore that are coming to the water to drink and crocodiles both in and out of the water.  The delta cruise travels down the Nile River to the Victoria Nile Delta where the bird life is prolific and is the best place to search for the shoebill.  If you’re ready for a fishing experience like none other, you can bait your hooks in anticipation for a mighty Nile Perch.  Fishing safaris with an experienced guide and equipment are a popular activity in the area.

All of the boat activities operate daily and can be arranged through Bakers Lodge which has its own fleet of boats and can pick you up from the lodge for the various excursions.  Special arrangements can also be made for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks or sundowners on board. You can also make your safari more interesting by combining the boats and a safari drive.  Cruise down the Nile River to the delta by boat at sunrise to experience the area from the water and then return with a game drive through the Buligi area which offers a number of tracks and where wildlife abounds.

Chimpanzee trekking can be done in the nearby Budongo forest where you can observe chimpanzees in their natural habitat as well as other primates such a black and white colobus monkeys.  This gentle walk through the forest is an amazing way to experience the sounds of an equatorial tropical rainforest.

For me, the highlight of my stay at Bakers Lodge was the proximity to the river and the spectacular views of it from anywhere around lodge.  I loved the slightly elevated bird’s eye 180 degree river views from the wooden deck of the main lodge and from my cottage the front roll up floor to ceiling large window was pure indulgence.  Lying comfortably on the bed, gazing at the river and listening to the birds, every tension in my entire body melted away.

If you are planning a trip to Murchison Falls NP, throw yourself back into the time of exploration at Bakers Lodge.  Sit in luxury on the banks of the Nile River and imagine what it was like for Samuel Baker to discover this amazing part of Uganda.
For more information and reservations:
Uganda – Wild Frontiers Exclusive Camps & Lodges
PO Box 619, Entebbe, Uganda
Tel/Fax: +256 414 321 479
Mobile: +256 772 721 155
Email: reservations@ugandaexclusivecamps.com

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hybrid Solar Eclipse

On Sunday November 3, 2013 we were fortunate to have clear skies in Kampala and able to witness a rare hybrid solar eclipse.  This is a composite of the eclipse as it progressed through the skies above Kampala, Uganda.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Our Migration Safari, Masai Mara - Kenya

Several thousand wildebeest gathered on the bank of the Mara River, nervously milling around, pacing forward and backwards.  Slowly they moved closer to the rivers edge and then quickly retreated upon getting spooked by something in the water.  This cycle replayed over and over as the herd built up and the anticipation of a crossing heightened. Eventually two zebras without any hesitation marched into the muddy water and began to swim to the other side.  My heart raced.... will the others follow? Will the zebras survive? Phew, they made it, but the others didn’t follow.  The cycle started again and while we patiently waited we watched as crocodiles well camouflaged in the water swam closer into position.  After more than two hours of waiting, it came without warning that one wildebeest waded deeper and deeper into the river.  This time the others followed. Mayhem ensued!!

The start of the first river crossing we witnessed.

Driving through the Masa Mara National Reserve there were tens of thousands of wildebeest as far as the eye could see.  The migration was evident all around us, but what we really wanted to see was a river crossing.  I had no idea what to expect.  I had seen it on television many times but it didn’t prepare me for the real thing.  From the moment the first wildebeest entered the water and others followed, my heart raced. Soon after, I was overcome with emotion.  The sounds, the dust, the splashes, the cries, the chaos caused tears to flood down my face.  I found myself rooting for every animal to make it across even knowing that their death is life for the crocodiles.  I witnessed death before my eyes and it was hard.  The wildebeest driven by instinct, by life, by greener pastures.  No matter what I write here I can’t explain the power of witnessing this event.  I feel truly blessed for being able to witness it and recommend the opportunity to everyone that has the chance.  The migration truly is the greatest outdoor show on the planet!  The scene of a young wildebeest wandering on the banks after a crossing, looking and crying out for its mother, a lion dragging a young wildebeest it has just killed to the other members of its pride to eat, these scenes are real and a reminder of the circle of life.  Death is essential for life to carry on.  It is everything that the Great Migration is about.

The Mara River

A procession of wildebeest

River crossing

River crossing

River crossing

River crossing

River crossing

River crossing

A lioness dragging her wildebeest kill in the early morning after a river crossing

There was wildebeest as far as the eye could see across the plains of the Masai Mara

Over a hundred wildebeest taking shade under a tree in the heat of the midday sun

Wildebeest everywhere

A compilation video featuring three of the five river crossings that we were witness to.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Horseback Safari in Uganda

Riding through the savannah with zebra in the background
As an intrepid bush lover and safari enthusiast, the idea of experiencing my passion on horseback was extremely intriguing.  Mihingo Lodge is the only place in Uganda that offers horseback safaris in a national park so that is where this first time experience took place.

My husband and I are inexperienced riders and were unsure of how our backsides would fare on a long ride, so we started with a one hour safari in the late afternoon.  The stables are a short distance from Mihingo Lodge where we were spending a couple of nights.  When we arrived at the stables for our safari we were met by Joseph the stable manager.  Joseph showed us around the stables and he introduced us to all of the horses and ponies.   The stables and facilities were clean, organized and had a number of spacious paddocks for the horses to graze.

One of the horses in the stables

After we were acquainted with the facilities it was time to visit the tack room and get ready for our ride.  Trail saddles, stirrups, chaps and helmets are all provided for your guided safari. Riders should wear long pants, a strong pair of shoes and most importantly bring your sense of adventure.  All geared up we were ready to meet our horses.  I was riding Summersong and Kevin had his trusty steed Vallas.  Joseph gave us a few pointers and instruction about riding our horses and we were all set.

Inside the tack room

Ready for the safari

We left the stables and began our safari riding through the savannah.  I had been told that game and wildlife is extremely relaxed around horses allowing riders to get very close to them but some things need to be experienced to be fully understood.   Not only did we get very close to animals but what surprised me the most was their calmness.  We were able to maintain a normal volume of conversation and they didn’t flinch or seem bothered.  Our guides Joseph and Charles were very knowledgeable about the wildlife and their habitat. As we rode through the bush and grassland we came across many species including warthogs, zebra, eland, dwarf mongoose, impala and bush buck as well as various birds. Horseback safaris are not ideal for photography as your hands are needed on the reins and the constant movement is not conducive for photos.  Small manageable point and shoot cameras are ideal.  The whole experience is very relaxing and personal.  While sitting on your horse you can enjoy the scenery and make mental memories.

Feeling confident after our first ride, we decided to go for a longer one in the morning.  This time we left the stables at 7:30am for a 4 hour ride that took us outside the park towards Lake Kacheera.  Animals were plentiful and the landscape and scenery was beautiful.  For those that have never been on a horseback safari it is a special experience.  Without the confines of a vehicle and a rumbling engine you can take in every sound and every movement.  The horses at Mihingo were relaxed and calm so there was never any fear of being taken on a sudden gallop.  Having no previous experience, I never felt worried or stressed.

After the rides, Mihingo lodge was a stunning place to have a swim in the infinity pool overlooking a waterhole, have a full body massage, enjoy gourmet food and take in a bit of Mihingo magic.  We thoroughly enjoyed our first horseback safari and didn’t suffer from any aches, pains or sore backsides.  We left only with plenty of memories and smiles on our faces.  It was definitely an adventure that we will never forget.
To enjoy a Mihingo horseback safari, no previous experience with horses is necessary.  They are fully equipped for adults and children and offer rides starting from 30 minutes to several hours as well as overnight trips, bush breakfasts and picnic lunches.

For Information & Bookings
+256-752 410 509

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Night Drive - Lake Mburo NP

It was the night of the supermoon and we had scheduled a night drive in Lake Mburo National Park.  Unknowingly, we were in for a super night!

We picked up our Uganda Wildlife Authority guide Lawrence just before sunset.  He had a large spotlight with him which wired directly to our car battery.  Lawrence decided to perch himself on the roof of the Land Rover so that he had a good vantage point.  We were all set and started driving towards the Research Track.  By this time the sun had set and darkness was setting in.  From inside the Land Rover we watched as Lawrence moved the spotlight quickly from left to right looking for animals.  It was Kevin that heard Lawrence say "leopard, stop!"  I was driving.  I quickly pressed on the brakes and started looking around "where?"  A male leopard was in front of us and just off of the road to the right.  We turned off the engine and watched as he walked through the grass towards a thicket.  For over 30 minutes we watched the leopard as he slowly made his way from thicket to thicket, pausing at each one to look around and survey his surroundings.  Eventually he walked off into the darkness leaving us with adrenaline pumped bodies and big grins.  Fantastic!!  This sighting was enough for me, I was so happy to have had such a good spotting of a leopard that I was prepared to head back to Mihingo lodge where we were staying and revel in our night drive experience.

As we drove back, we saw buffalo, zebras, a white tailed mongoose and a genet cat. We were not far from the  lodge when Lawrence asked us to turn onto a small track to look for hyena as he knew of the general location they hang around at night.  Close to the road, we saw a figure dart away from an anthill and into the thick bushes nearby.  We shone our lights and could see two eyes staring back at us.  As we crept the vehicle closer to the bush, we realized it was a leopard!!  Another one!  How exciting was this?!  Another male, this time never leaving the protection and cover of the bush.  We admired his beauty, his large golden eyes resembling giant glass marbles, his long whiskers and rosette patterned coat.  After about 30 minutes we decided to leave him and let him get back to his leopard business.  As we drove back to Mihingo, we giggled at our fortune of seeing two separate leopards on one night drive.

If you are visiting Lake Mburo National Park, I can highly recommend this exciting activity. Although there is no guarantee of seeing leopard, a guided night drive gives you the chance to experience the animals in their habitat at night as well as giving you an opportunity to spot nocturnal species.  For us, it was a super night!