It’s good to be in the wilds again and we were lucky enough last night to experience an unexpected and thrilling treat. Soon after we hit the sack in our RTT, at about 22H30, we heard breaking tree boughs steadily approaching the campsite clearing. These were obviously quite a substantial herd of forest elephant feeding. Soon they had entered the campsite and were feeding all around us. Obviously feeding on the forest edge of the campsite clearing was easier than from within the dense forest. They were so close we could hear them carefully chewing the bark off branches and also hear the soft stomach rumbles of their subsonic communications. I did not want to disturb them so did not shine any torches. Forest elephants are by nature very skittish. They must have spent about 2hr in the campsite.
At about 3H00 they returned, the crashing branches woke me. This time I did shine a torch and immediately regretted it as they all fled. We have now had close encounters with savannah, desert (on previous trips) and now their forest cousins. They left quite a number of piles of dung as a memoir.
We were at Bigodi Wetlands HQ less than 15min down the road by 7H30 for our guided bird walk. Our guide was Rogers from the local community and proved a capable and very pleasant guide. The Bigodi Wetlands are another community project and as mentioned we believe that supporting them is good for conservation. This 4 – 5km walk will take anything from 3 – 4hr, depending how slowly you want to move along as you bird. We were out for 3hr 30min. The walk is not strenuous at all and you walk along a trail and short boardwalks around the circumference of the densely wooded swamp, although sticking to the edge of the tree line giving a good view. You do need closed shoes and long trousers because of the fire ants and perhaps take some water. If you have a bird field guide book take it with as not all the guides have them. It might rain thus a waterproof jacket will be needed. We had a beautiful clear day and we were alone in the group. The cost of the walk is USh 20,000 pp, (US$7). The only payment you make to the guide is a tip. We enjoyed this outing thoroughly, the birds you see are mainly those of the forest and fringe. We saw about 40 different species, I did not count those identified by their call only. Of these 16 species were lifers, not bad for half a morning. Amongst the spectacular birds seen were multiple views of the great blue turaco, Ross’s turaco, woodland kingfisher, long-crested eagle, Vanga flycatcher, red-headed malimbe and black-and-white manikin. The full list of new species seen will be in the Geeks section.
Do not forget that this walk includes good primate viewing, most of which we had sighted before. Monkeys seen included the red colobus, black and white colobus, red-tailed monkey, grey-cheeked mangabey and L’Hoests, not a bad haul. Unfortunately I had decided against lugging a camera and telephoto lens with us. I would recommend this outing to all should they still have the energy left after the chimp hike most would be doing here.
Tonight we will be treating ourselves to supper at Primate Lodge and perhaps be plotting our route to Semliki NP (not the oft-confused Semliki Game Reserve). The park is forested and famed amongst birders and the reserve is savannah. I am in fact posting this from the lodge making use of their fast wi-fi. As I sit here a large family of chimps are in the forest in between the lodge cottages, making a hell of a racket. I am not sure that this would not have been a better location for chimp viewing than Gombe Streams. The tourist groups are full of reports of prolonged (1hr) contact with large groups of over 20 chimps. Once again the day long chimp habituation option seems very attractive, but I think you have to be pretty fit.
We are moving on tomorrow and Anne and I have been finding it very difficult to decicde where to go to next. The immediate options are the nearby (80km) Semiliki National Park where the lowland forest birding is fantastic and one can see many birds only otherwise seen in the Congo and the likes. There are also the Sempaya Hot Springs to see there. However the stiff Ugandan park fees apply here, US$150 just for the vehicle. We have seen plenty of forests recently and have finally decided to pass up on this destination and instead head for Lake Albert Lodge on the lake which is apparently lovely with good camping facilities. We do have to move on a bit from the Fort Portal area as we still want to spend plenty of time at Murchissons and Kidepo National Parks.