Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Semliki and Shoebills

From Murchison it was a brutal 10 hour drive to Semliki, only 150 km by water (achievable in 3 hours or so in a speed boat) but more like 280 km by road, only 50 km on tar, the rest on ruts, ridges, rocks and occasional smooth murram. Felt like we had been through a particularly bad massage, or maybe 10 rounds with a latter day Muhammad Ali.

We had booked in the Semliki Safari Lodge, and it is really beautiful. Each room is entirely independent, and none are visible from one another. Comfort, great food, beautiful setting overlooking the Wassa river valley, and both black & white colobus and casqued hornbills to greet us.

The only other guests were Peter & Elka Moeller, friends of Ludwig Siefert, with whom we have just been working. Peter had just retired after many years in Uganda and he too has a passion for things wild, having founded a German NGO called Foerderkreis fuer Ugandas Tierwelt (Foundation For Uganda’s Wildlife) after the disasters of the Amin and then the Obote years.. He has been a filmmaker (for German TV) a builder, and was involved in the translocation of eland from Lake Mburo and Rothschild giraffe from Lake Nakuru NP in Kenya to Kidepo Valley NP in north-eastern Uganda.

The highlight of this trip was undoubtedly the boat trip to the papyrus swamp on Lake Albert. On the way we passed a large fishing village and watched as two boatmen rowed their canoe-like craft out from a sheltered cove. A close look at the picture seems to show that they are rowing stern first, but all such boats were propelled in the same way. The oars are simply flat boards that have been shaped a bit at the handle end.

Our hosts, Mark and Kristin Vibbert had not told us that the chances of seeing a Shoebill stork were good. We saw three, close up and personal, and one of them moved to grab something in the water, but we never saw what is was.

One of the films that Peter Moeller made was about these extraordinary birds, which live only in papyrus swamps and stand waiting for movement of things under the floating vegetation. They then grab at the movement and if it is a fish they kill it with the sharp hook at the end of the upper bill.

There were many other water birds along the swamp edges. This purple heron, that had been lurking in a patch of floating weed surprised us as it left in a hurry and a pair of fish eagles regaled us with their evocative cries.

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