Murchison Falls National Park: March 11-13, 2016

Any birding trip to Murchison Falls National Park must balance the search for birds with a general appreciation for the park’s abundant wildlife and spectacular scenery. I’ve been to Murchison four times now, and I’ve yet to see a large number of site specialties, including Shoebill, Secretary Bird, Bat Hawk, Egyptian Plover, Pel’s Fishing Owl, and many others. In part, this is because there is simply too much to do at Murchison than simply focus on birds. This trip was no different, as Aimee and I aimed to show off the best of the park to our friend visiting from the States. Instead of searching for plovers on the delta mid morning, for example, we spent two hours in the dogged pursuit of lions. Despite these intentions, I still inadvertently added a few new birds to my site list, including Saddle-Billed Stork, Blue-Breasted Kingfisher, Brown Babbler, and Beautiful Sunbird.

Our standard Murchison itinerary should be familiar to regular readers of this blog, but on this trip we added a few twists. We left Kampala before dawn, arrived at Paraa in time for an afternoon boat ride to the base of the falls, and camped that night on the north side of the river. After a morning game drive in the delta, we drove to the falls lookout, hiked down to the base of the falls, and spent the night at the public campsite. On our final morning, we woke early and drove to Kaniyo Pabidi in time for chimpanzee tracking. Having seen chimpanzees myself just a few weeks ago, I spent the morning birding around the park station, noting Blue-Breasted Kingfisher, African Shrike-Flycatcher, Green Hylia, and Superb Sunbird, among others. We left the park almost exactly forty-eight hours after we entered, timing it perfectly in order to only pay the entrance fee for two days ($40 per day for foreign non residents).

Murchison Falls, the waterfall, is considerably more complex than I originally understood. The falls are physically split in two parts, the divide coming back in 1962, the year of Uganda’s independence from British colonial rule. After heavy rains that year, the Victoria Nile flooded, and enough water was diverted around the original falls, that is, the celebrated seven-meter wide chasm, that the site was forever altered. I learned this fact, and much more, on a guided hike down to the base of the falls from the viewpoint. The hike was wonderfully scenic but so hot that I forgot to search in the riverine forest for Pel’s Fishing Owl. Considering how focused I’ve been on seeing that owl, my brains must have been boiling! I won’t spoil your own visit, but I will add that the social history of Murchison Falls includes a wide cast of characters, including Theodore Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, and Humphrey Bogart. 

It’s worth considering how I’d like to approach my next to Murchison, especially if I can focus on birding. Visitors should note that one a serious drawback to productive birding is the restriction against getting out of the vehicle. It’s difficult to track down birds on safari when you’re sitting in an air-conditioned vehicle. Just outside the park boundary, however, Nile Safari camp boasts an excellent trail where White-Crested Turaco, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, White-Rumped Seedeater, Western Violet-Backed Sunbird, and many birds can be found. Another area where it’s possible to explore on foot is around the falls lookout. The surrounding vegetation hosts Red-Winged Grey Warbler, Brown Twinspot, Green-Backed Eremomela, and Brown-Backed Woodpecker, among others. Night birding continues to be a priority until I finally photograph the Standard-Winged Nightjar and get a look at the Pennant-Winged Nightjar. Of course, I’ll keep my hopes up of seeing Pel’s Fishing Owl on future boat rides to the base of the falls. 

Notable birds seen: Great White Pelican, African Darter, Common Squacco Heron, Little Egret, Black Egret, Intermediate Egret, Goliath Heron, Grey Heron, Yellow-Billed Stork, Hamerkop, Abdim’s Stork, Saddle-Billed Stork, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Egyptian Goose, Spur-Winged Goose, White-Faced Whistling-Duck, African Fish Eagle, Brown Snake-Eagle, African Marsh Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier, Dark Chanting-Goshawk, Common Buzzard, Grasshopper Buzzard, Tawny Eagle, Long-Crested Eagle, Common Kestrel, Grey Kestrel, Helmeted Guineafowl, Crested Guineafowl, Red-Necked Spurfowl, Crested Francolin, Black Crake, African Jacana, Grey Crowned Crane, Black-Winged Stilt, Spotted Thick-Knee, Senegal Thick-Knee, Collared Pratincole, Rock Pratincole, Spur-Winged Lapwing, Long-Toed Lapwing, African Wattled Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Black-Billed Wood-Dove, Tambourine Dove, African Emerald Cuckoo (h), Yellowbill, White-Browed Coucal, Long-Tailed Nightjar, Eurasian Swift, Blue-Naped Mousebird, Speckled Mousebird, Grey-Headed Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Woodland Kingfisher, Blue-Breasted Kingfisher, Chocolate-Backed Kingfisher (h), Malachite Kingfisher, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Little Bee-Eater, Swallow-Tailed Bee-Eater, Red-Throated Bee-Eater, Northern Carmine Bee-Eater, Green Wood-Hoopoe, African Grey Hornbill, Black-and-White-Casqued Hornbill, Abyssinian Ground-Hornbill, Yellow-Rumped Tinkerbird, Yellow-Throated Tinkerbird, Black-Billed Barbet, Wire-Tailed Swallow, White-Headed Saw-Wing, White-Browed Robin-Chat, African Thrush, Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush, Northern Wheatear, Whinchat, Green Hylia, Grey-Backed Camaroptera, Buff-Throated Apalis, African Dusky Flycatcher, African Shrike-Flycatcher, Red-Bellied Flycatcher, Silverbird, Brown Babbler, Olive Sunbird, Superb Sunbird, Beautiful Sunbird, Woodchat Shrike, Black-Headed Gonolek, Tropical Boubou, Black-Crowned Tchagra, Piapiac, Yellow-Billed Oxpecker, Rufous Sparrow, Red-Billed Quelea, Red-Cheeked Cordon-Bleu, Common Waxbill. 

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