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Uganda: Murchison Falls National Park/Royal Mile

August 2019


Murchison Falls National Park is large park located on the shores of Lake Albert. The park covers roughly 1,500 square miles of land and straddles the Victoria Nile. We spent two nights in the park at a beautiful lodge. We spent our first morning in the park on a boat ride along the river and up to the falls. You can read about that experience in my previous post. After the trip, we caught the ferry across the river and made our way to the lodge. The next morning started our day touring the park.


So, a few comments before we dive into photos. We didn't really know what to expect here. Our only basis was our previous experience in Tanzania out on the Serengeti. The Serengeti is a large open savanna. Murchison is not a savanna. It's open areas are bushland; think tall grass with large, scattered shrubs. Parts of it have a lot of trees. We saw many, many elephants and giraffes. As many as we saw, they are comparatively few to what they used to number. The years of unrest under Idi Amin were not kind to the wildlife in Uganda. We saw a lot of elephants with snare scars, and some looked quite fresh. There are, also, loads of various types of deer/antelope: Kob, Oribi, Lelwel Hartebeest, Bushbuck, Reedbuck, and Waterbuck. Of all the places we visited, Murchison had the most and best variety of wildlife. What we didn't get good looks at were lions. Lions seem scarce pretty much everywhere we went. Rhinos are extinct in the wild in Uganda. If you are looking for the Big 5 here, you have to visit the refuge. There are plenty of African Buffalo.


A lot of the wildlife was right next to the road. This often made photos difficult. I was shooting with at 200mm-500mm Nikkor lens, and I was over-lensed. Even at 200mm, a lot of the animals were just too close. The tall grass did not make things easy, either. I'm not really complaining. I got plenty of shots I'm happy with. If you plan to go, though, you will want to consider something a little wider angle so you can include habitat in your shots.


How about I stop typing and just post some pictures? Let's just start with my favorite shot from here. As we came through "Elephant Valley", we rounded a corner and came upon a fallen tree. There, we spotted two young leopards resting on the tree. Our driver immediately stopped the van, and we sprung into action. One of the leopards leaped down into cover before we could even get a shot off. The other, thankfully, gave us a bit more consideration; meaning, he actually sat there and stared at us for a couple minutes. Eventually, he came to his senses and jumped down into cover.

The rest of the morning was spent roaming the park and photographing whatever would sit still for us. We spent the hot part of the day back at the lodge and then headed back out in the afternoon, when it had cooled a bit. It'd be nice to label the picture here, but there is not an easy way to do that. Obviously, there are buffalo and elephants. The Piapiac, a type of corvid (think jay or crow), ride around on their backs looking for bugs. The giraffes (the Rothschild's subspecies) tended to have Yellow-billed Oxpecker on them. The Oribi are super tiny and had large black spots below their ears. A Senegal Coucal came out to serenade us with some grunts. A White-browed Coucal even gave up its skulking ways for a bit and posed in a bush. Weavers and cisticolas provided some ID challenges. Northern Carmine and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters brightened the landscape. Abyssinian Ground-Hornbill strutted through the grass. And the proud Grey Crowned-Crane, the national bird of Uganda, even posed for a few pics. At last light, we found a pair of Red-necked Falcons cleaning their evening meal. There are way too many photos to share here; so, a few pics will have to give you an idea of the variety we saw here.


During our midday break, I spent some time wandering the grounds of the hotel. You can always find something to shoot; even if its futile attempts to capture an African Palm-Swift as it jets by - or even a dung beetle as it... rolls by?


That night, we had our first clear night and an opportunity for some star shots. The grounds for the hotel were used, at night, as a resting area for some of the wildlife; waterbuck and warthogs, mostly. There was a pool area that overlooked the Nile in the distance, and I thought this might be a good area to shoot from. It was lit and had some flat ground to shoot from. The area I really wanted to try was a mile or so down the road. An old collapsed 2-story lodge laid in ruins there. Unfortunately, it was also home to a hyena den and was frequented by leopards at night. So, we stuck to the hotel grounds, which only proved marginally safer. As we were heading to the pool area, a waterbuck got up and started charging us. Thankfully, some quick hand waving and yelling deterred it. In the end, the shots did not really work out. The pool area was too bright. We headed over to the parking lot, where it was darker, but I hurried the shots and did not get enough overlap in my panorama. There were a group of waterbuck nearby, and I was not eager to repeat my earlier experience.


The next morning, we were up early and racing out the door to catch the first ferry back. We stopped for a few shots, but time was short.

Marabou Sunrise

We made it to the ferry right on time. Once across, we visited the top of Murchison Falls and then headed back to Masindi for the night.


Book-ended around our time in Murchison was a stop at the Royal Mile on the way and another stop near the Royal Mile on the way back. The Royal Mile is a park enclosing a stretch of road a little over a mile long. It's called the Royal Mile because it is a favored strolling ground the king, when he is in the area. It's also well-known for it's birding; there a number of Congo species that pop up in the forest here. Unfortunately, the birding proved quite difficult on both our stops. While we did see White-thighed Hornbill, many other specialties (like Blue-breasted and Dwarf Kingfisher) eluded us.

We had much better luck on the way in when we stopped near the Our Lady Queen of Poland church (built by Polish refugees) and birded the surrounding sugar cane fields. Bishops, whydah, firefinch, waxbills, and sunbirds filled the area.

What we had our best luck with in and around the Royal Mile was butterflies. The day we were heading back, we stopped along a road and had so many butterflies, they were hard to keep track of. So many types and colors, it was amazing. Foresters, gliders, tips, and Mother-of-Pearls where everywhere. Here's a sampling-


The Blue Diedem was probably my favorite.

If I were to go back to Uganda, and I would happily go back, I would want to spend more time here, in the Murchison area.


Thanks for reading,

Mike



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