Archive for July 2013

June 1st – 27th: Uganda – the Primates   3 comments

I have finally managed to go through and edit the 2,700 pictures I took in Uganda in June, of these I have retained about 950. With shots from the more recent visit to Austria and Italy to edit as well I  thought that rather than post a chronological account of the trip to Uganda, as I have done for earlier trips, I would occasional post pictures on a particular theme. Uganda is one of the best countries in the world to see and photograph primates, so here is a selection of my shots.

 

We also saw Central African Red Colobus and the tiny Spectacled Galago but failed to get any photos. 

 

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Olive Baboons were a common site in most savanna areas like Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls NPs .

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Bold and inquisitive, habituated baboons, especially mature males can be quite dangerous with larger incisor teeth than a Lion, but in most areas where they occur we were confined to the vehicles.

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Patas Monkeys occur in savanna areas and are more often seen on the ground than in trees.

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Patas Monkeys habitually stand on their hind legs to scan for predators. As primates moved out of the forest into the newly formed savannas millions of years ago, this behaviour may have led to the evolution of bi-pedalism in our earliest hominid ancestors.

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Vervet Monkeys are another typical primate of acacia dominated savanna.

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We saw these Blue Monkeys in the Budongo and Bwindi forests.

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Red-tailed Monkeys are restricted to the Congo region reaching their easternmost point in western Uganda.

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Guereza (or Eastern Black-and -white) Colobus always look like a collection of wise old men surveying the scene below.

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This Grey-cheeked Mangaby has an infant clutched to her chest.

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The pretty little L’Hoest’s Monkey was a real treat at Kibale and Bwindi.

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Seeing Chimpanzees at close range was one of the highlights of the trip. Their is real intelligence in their eyes. The chimps at Kibale are completely used to humans and just go on their way and ignore you.

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One of several adult chimps we saw in the late afternoon. apparently it is scanning the tree tops looking for a place to build a nest for the night.

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Probably the best experience of the trip, if not the best experience of any trip, was the hour spent with the Eastern Gorillas at Bwindi. This silverback, the dominant male of the group, was completely indifferent to us.

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His ‘second in command’, a black-backed male, however watched us closely. When the troupe moved off we followed, but the black-back took up the rear and stayed behind us. There was no suggestion of aggression from these gentle giants, except when a our guide cut a branch with a machete to allow for better photos. The black-back did a mock charge, teeth bared and the guide sensibly withdrew.

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As you would expect, the young Gorillas were the most active.

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Most of the time the group just lay about, digesting their last meal and farting loudly.

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As Sir David Attenborough famously said ‘there is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a Gorilla than with any other animal I know’

Posted July 30, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

26th – 27th July – Old friends are like buses …….   Leave a comment

Yes, it’s true, you don’t see old friends for years and then two turn up on the same day! My friend John Short had phoned me and said he was in the UK for a while and could visit me on 26th – 27th July.

I first met John in October 1969 when I first went to Leeds University. We shared lodgings for the first year and then John, myself and three others lived in decrepit house  in Fraser Terrace for the next three years. We kept in touch after University, but meetings naturally declined, especially after he moved to live near Paris. Our last get togethers were in 2003 when ten of us had a Leeds reunion, in 2007 when along with two friends I stayed with John and his wife Florence on the way back from a short birding trip to the ‘French Lakes’ and tragically at the funeral of Clive Taylor, another of the  Fraser Terrace lads, two years ago.

On the evening of the 25th several of us went ringing at Lytchett Bay and we caught over 80 birds, mainly roosting Sand Martins. These were ringed and roosted at Shaun’s place and at 0500 on the 26th we all assembled back down the Bay for a typical early morning ringing session. Imagine my amazement when another old friend, Guy Dutson, appeared. Apparently the others knew he was coming but hadn’t told me so it would be a surprise.

Guy was our young birding prodigy back in the early 80s. At the age of 13 he was already finding good birds and aged 14 he joined our ringing group and spent a lot of time with me training to ring birds. After studying veterinary science  at Cambridge he had a number of veterinary jobs before working for BirdLife International in the Pacific, spending long periods in New Guinea, Melanesia, Polynesia and Australia. He authoured the definitive guide to the birds of Melanesia and led tours for Birdquest for a while  (I went on two tours that he led, to PNG and New Zealand). I last saw him about 18 months ago when he came to visit his family, but recently he has married Suzie and they now live in Melbourne with their daughter Lila.

As always he had a packed schedule and had to return home and pack, as he was off to Cornwall to meet up with his brother and sister, but after the ringing session I managed a brief visit to his parents house in Corfe Mullen to meet his wife and daughter.

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Guy and Suzie with six month old Lila

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Bronwyn holds her latest grandchild.

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Off to Cornwall, Lila prepares for the long drive to see her auntie and uncle.

I got back home about 1130 and tried to get forty winks before John arrived as I had had very little sleep the previous night. John phoned at about 1300 to say he had been involved in traffic accident just 10 miles from our house on the Blandford by-pass. A van had pulled out from a side road and driven straight into him. No-one was hurt but there was clearly going to be a delay. Apparently by the time the car (a write-off) was picked up and taken to the hire car company office in Bournemouth, the office was closing.  John then had to wait several hours for another pick up to take him to Southampton airport where finally he was given another car. He arrived with us at 2315, just 10 hours later than expected!

Both John and Guy are highly respected and valued friends from various times in my past and it was amazing to meet up with both of them on the same day.

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John and Margaret. Plenty of reminisces of the old times and lots of updates about life today.

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John wanted to see the Iron Age hill fort of Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, so on the 27th we picked up Amber, who was at a loose end, and went for a walk around the ancient structure.

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Amber’s is looking like a typically bored teenager but actually she is very knowledgeable about all things archaeological and told us in detail how the the hill fort would have been defended in ancient times.

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About the only other social event has been a drink with John and Anita and Gio and Jessica at the Harbour Heights Hotel on 24th

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There is a wonderful view from the hotels terrace, note the fog covering the Purbecks.

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Time to admire the lovely sunset over Poole Harbour

Posted July 28, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

July 5th – 21st: Austria and Italy with short visits to Germany, Hungary and San Marino   1 comment

We’ve back after a very enjoyable trip around Austria and northern Italy. The original plan was to search out the last two birds that I had yet to see in Europe, go sightseeing in northern Italy and visit Margaret’s sister in far eastern Austria. The latter two were completed to our satisfaction but seeing the much wanted Rock Partridge and Moltoni’s Warbler didn’t work out.

This is just a summary, I hope to post more photos as I get round to editing them.

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I ordered an Opel but the good people at Munich airport hired out a lovely BMW X1, in the words of Bruce Springsteen ‘a big foreign car that drives like paradise’

 

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From Munich we drove south through the narrow ‘neck’ of Austria to Italy then back eastwards into southern Austria. From here we drove through the Dolomites to Bolzano and south to Lake Garda, Bologna, Florence, San Marino, Ravenna, the Po Delta and Venice. Then we drove to far eastern Austria to see Margaret’s sister before returning to Munich via Salzburg and Dachau.

 

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We drove from Munich through the narrow ‘neck’ of Austria into Italy and then back eastwards into southern Austria. We met Graham Tebb, a Viennese birder who I know from a trip to Ethiopia in 2011. The following day we tackled this mountain in the hope of seeing Rock Partridge. All Graham and I got for five hours of exhausting scrambling across the slope was a couple of distant call notes. It was to put it mildly, exhausting work.

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The southern Alps are in Austria but just over the border in Italy is the geologically unique Dolomites. I was surprised to find that we were very close to the site of my troubled hiking holiday to this region that I made in 2006. This lake is just south of the town of Dobbacio.

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The area around Tre Cime (three chimneys) has outstanding scenery but views like this gave Margaret a severe attack of vertigo so we had to leave in a hurry.

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We visited Bolzano to see the famous Ice Man museum. A 5,200 year old body was found frozen in ice on the Italian-Austrian border and the body and all the artifacts found with it are preserved in this museum. Using modern reconstruction techniques, this a model of what the man, known as locally as Otzi would have looked like.

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Although Lake Garda was undoubtedly beautiful, the entire northern section consisted of tunnel after tunnel, with nowhere to stop and enjoy the view. We had to stop at this hotel for a coffee to see this stunning panorama.

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The guide book gave three warnings about driving in Italy: the price of fuel, which we agree is excessive, the standard of driving which we found, on the whole, to be ok and problems in parking ,which we certainly experienced in the ancient city of Bologna.

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And then it was over the Apennines to the tiny independent principality of San Marino, my 99th country. The eponymous capital is perched precariously on a hill overlooking Italy which completely surrounds this tiny nation.

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North along the Adriatic coast to Ravenna and the stunning mosaics in ancient Byzantine churches.

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Just north of Ravenna is the delta of the River Po and the site of some excellent birdwatching areas. We spent two mornings and an evening watching Flamingos, Spoonbills Pygmy Cormorants, ducks, waders, terns and other waterbirds, whilst Golden Orioles and Turtle Doves appeared in nearby woodland. At night we saw a Scops Owl just yards from our hotel.

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Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal in Venice. Visiting Venice was hot and crowded but so very, very worthwhile.

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Venice get 14 million visitors a year and most seem to arrived on the same day as us. Long queues in the heat to get into San Marco were inevitable.

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Well I missed Rock Partridge and didn’t get to the Moltoni’s Warbler area so was the trip tickless? In 2007 in the Dolomites I thought I had seen the recently split Italian Sparrow but close observation this year showed that most in that area were intergrades with House Sparrow. So these pure Italian Sparrows, seen from Bolzano southwards and east to Venice, were really a lifer. Note the brown cap, white not grey cheeks and the solid black bib.

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From Venice it was a long drive to the Austrian-Hungarian border where Margaret’s sister Cathy lives. As the border is at the bottom of her garden, we spent as much time in Hungary, whilst there, as we did in Austria. Here Margaret and Cathy admire a Hungarian church. Birding in the area was excellent even at this time of year. More of that later!

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Salzburg Castle overlooks the town. We stayed here on our final night before driving through Bavaria to Munich.

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With time to spare before our flight we visited the memorial site of the Dachau concentration camp just north of Munich. It could hardly be called entertainment, but the sensitive handling by the museum of one of the darkest periods in human history was informative and sobering. We think everyone should visit a site like this in memory of all those who died so needlessly. The lettering on the gate reads ‘work makes you free’.

Posted July 23, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

29th – 30th June – a beach BBQ and some music on the quay   Leave a comment

For those who are interested in the family activities rather than just my foreign travels, I’ll quickly post this update, (bizarrely the captions box is working again, I must find out what I am doing wrong!)

Since returning from Uganda on the 27th I have spent most of my time editing photos, entering data on the computer etc, however on Saturday 29th we joined john and Anita and some of their friends at a beach BBQ at Boscombe and on Sunday we joined them on Poole Quay for a music event. Margaret and I also met up with several local birders at the Blue Boar on July 2nd to catch up with bird news.

The first signs of return (autumn) migration are already happening and should be in full swing when we get back from our trip to see Margaret’s sister in Austria later in the month.

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BBQ at Boscombe beach

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Low evening sun combined with smoke from the BBQs was dazzling.

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Anita playing frisbee

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Amber with her boyfriend Zak and Kara go swimming – far too cold for me.

 

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Amber, Zak and Kara shivering post dip.

 

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On Sunday Margaret and I enjoyed listening to a range of music on Poole Quay …..

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… before joining John and Anita and friends for a drink at the Portsmouth Hoy.

 

Posted July 5, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

1st to 27th June – Uganda   Leave a comment

I started this blog with the intention of keeping interested parties up to date with my post-retirement activities. However I hadn’t envisioned that there would be times when I would be so busy that there wouldn’t be time to write a blog or edit the photos required. This is exactly what has happened recently. The 1st to 27th of June was spent on a highly successful Birdquest trip to Uganda. We saw a wide range of birds and mammals and I took over 2,700 photos, so editing even a selection for the blog has been a challenge. On top of that Margaret and I will be away in the near future, visiting her sister, so some preparation for that trip has been necessary as well.
Anyway here is a summary of the Uganda trip with just a few photos to illustrate it. For some reason I can’t add captions to the photos in the usual manner, so I apologise for the unusual formatting.
The rains had come early and had been prolonged, so everything was green and the grass very long, the weavers, bishops and wydahs sported their breeding finery but on the downside, because many forest species were now feeding young, they were less responsive than expected to recording.
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A Northern Red Bishop in breeding finery
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Also high water levels meant that some birds weren’t in the usual spot, for example we had four encounters with the legendary Shoebill but only one was on the ground but another one was seen soaring over a wholly unexpected area.
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This Shoebill was seen feeding in the papyrus marsh but I couldn’t get a clear view for photos.
It later flew allowing this poor image to be captured.
Shoebills are so distinctive that they are placed in their own family. I now have just two families
for the set, one in New Caledonia and one in Borneo.
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As well as the migratory birds that breed in the Palearctic, Africa hosts a large resident population of Purple Herons.
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Grey-headed Kingfisher
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From Lake Victoria we headed north to Murcheson Falls NP where we saw lots of Oribi, Uganda Kob, Lake Chad Buffalo along with the fantastic Pennant-winged Nightjar and other great birds.
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The entire flow of the Nile is forced through this 10 metre wide gap at Murchison Falls
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Sudan Oribi
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Uganda Kob
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There were plenty of large Nile Crocodiles on lake Albert below Murchison Falls.
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African Fish Eagles are still a common site in Murcheson Falls but apparently
their numbers have declined sharply in recent years.
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IMG_2249-Pennant-winged-Nig
Ok, its a bit blurred , but it was taken through the windscreen illuminated only by the headlights.
Pennant-winged Nightjar  is probably the most spectacular nightbird in the world.
Uganda is within the wintering range of the species, it breeds further south in Malawi and Zimbabwe,
and the amazingly long pennants (elongated primaries) aren’t fully grown.
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Budongo forest produced restricted range birds like Ituri Batis and Nathan’s Partridge along with several monkey species. At Kibale we had close encounters with Chimpanzees and finally found a recently fledged Green-breasted Pitta.
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A large male Chimpanzee scans the tree tops for somewhere to spend the night.
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Queen Elizabeth NP was superb, recently burnt areas held loads of Lapwing sp, but unfortunately not the much wanted Brown-chested, which had yet to arrive from its breeding grounds in west Africa. Dwarf Bittern was a long anticipated lifer and the Dusky Lark that leader Nik Borrow found was a first for Uganda,
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It was supposed to be a controlled burn but it looked anything but controlled to us.
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African Wattled Lapwing.  Also around the burnt areas were Senegal and Crowned Lapwing,
Temmink’s  Coursers and Collared Pratincoles.
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Dusky Lark, a first for Uganda.
Nik got better photos and I’ll post those at a later date if I can get a copy.
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The beautiful Black-headed Gonolek, a species of shrike, was common around our accommodation.
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One great aspect of this trip was the numbers of intra-African migrant wetland birds. I had seen the odd African Crakes, Allen’s Gallinules, Lesser Moorhens, Lesser Jacanas and African Skimmers before, but on this trip we recorded about 10 of each with the exception of the skimmers, where we found a flock of 800! Add to that a fantastic Red-chested Flufftail and you can see this was something special.
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African Crake
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Lesser Jacana is a rare example of neotony, a process where a species evolves from the
juvenile stage of a related species (in this case African Jacana).
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I had only seen eight African Skimmers before, this flock totaled over 800!
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Do you still think Cattle Egrets are cute?
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The highlight of course was the Gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. We were very luck and only had a 20 minute hike until we met the group, sometimes it takes six hours of arduous climbing, depending on where the Gorillas are that day. We had a wonderful hour watching them at close quarters. Further south, but still within the Impenetrable Forest NP, we came across a pair of African Green Broadbills building a nest.
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The hour spent with these gentle giants was one of the best field experiences ever.
More photos to follow in a future post
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The size and colour of a leaf, this diminutive Broadbill was building its nest of lichen high in a tree.
The nest was some distance from the path and had been found by a local ranger.
Seldom seen, yet much desired,this was one of the avian highlights of the trip and it
took an all day hike down into Muwindi swamp to reach 
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Further south on the Rwandan border is Mgahinga NP, we had a great day in wonderful scenery and scored with many montane specialties, including several beautiful bush-shrike species.
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A wonderful day in the Virunga Mountains
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Last location was Mburo NP, where along with loads of game we saw Red-headed Barbet, Black-shouldered Nightjar, White-backed Night Heron and African Finfoot.
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There were plenty of Waterbuck as well as Impala and Zebra at Mburo
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Mburo is also grazed by large herds of long horned Ankole Cattle,
which means that all large predators have been eliminated by the herdsmen.
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Elusive, yet often showing well when it is finally located,  African Finfoot is
one of a three in this family, the others occurring in the Neotropics and SE Asia.
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Half the group continued on with an optional extension, Mabira Forest gave me three more lifers, but the long drive north to Lake Bisina for Uganda’s only endemic, Fox’s Weaver drew a blank. A long way and a lot of money to dip, but then that’s birding for you.
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We spent hours paddling around Lake Bisina in very uncomfortable, leaking canoes but there was no sign of Fox’s Weaver.
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Black-headed Herons are as often found in dry habitats as marshes
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Fox’s Weaver is seldom seen but often strung! At least boat men used to take visiting birders to see
this species,  Northern Brown-throated Weaver which is common around the lake and call it Fox’s Weaver.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the illustration of Fox’s in the field guide is wrong,
showing Fox’s with a white, rather than red eye, like the above species.
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We recorded about 580 species (another 50 are possible if we had gone in the winter, but then we wouldn’t have got the Green Broadbill) and I added 75 species to my life list, which has pushed it over 7500.  Also I had 25 mammal ticks.
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Fantastic trip which I highly recommend. I will post more photos in due course.

Posted July 5, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized