… WHERE CHARLOTTE FINALLY SEES THOSE ELUSIVE ELEPHANTS – AND CAPTURES AT LEAST THE BACK OF ONE OF THEM …
(Posted 28th August 2020)
In the tenth of a series, Charlotte Beauvoisin shares some of her #LockdownDiaries from Kibale Forest in Western Uganda. Scroll down to read the first stories.
During the last fortnight, we’ve had an opportunity to spread our wings. Twice a year, the Sunbird Hill team carry out bird population monitoring on behalf of Nature Uganda. This voluntary activity covers Kibale Conservation Area and takes us to Semliki Wildlife Reserve and Semliki National Park (bordering Lake Edward and the DRC), Lake Saka and Katonga Wildlife Reserve, south of Fort Portal. As much as I love every inch of the land here at Sunbird Hill, it’s wonderfulto have a reason for exploring somewhere I’m less familiar with.
I don’t know which is better: seeing and hearing new birds or reconnecting with our colleagues post-lockdown: the Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers and our guide and researcher colleagues. The bird counts are an amazing learning experience and we frequently have these wild places to ourselves. I tag along as the scribe (and very amateur birder).
This month we have counted Fire-crested Alethe, Narina Trogon, Scaly-breasted Illadopsis, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Red-headed Bristlebill and Grey-throated Tit Flycatcher along Ngogo Road, within walking distance of Sunbird Hill. At Mainaro – another Kibale Forest site – we dodge piles of elephant dung and admire an African Harrier Hawk.
While most people enjoy a lazy Sunday morning, we were up at dawn to count birds in Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary, 3 km from Kibale Forest. That’s the easy part; add a facemask and glasses and you’re oblivious to everything when you’re drenched by a rainy season downpour! Hearing a Brown-eared Woodpecker and a White-winged Warbler – and the camaraderie – made the sogginess worthwhile. At Toro Botanical Gardens in Fort Portal we listed five species of flycatcher: Red-bellied, African Dusky, African Blue and White-eyed Slaty Flycatchers. I missed the Ashy Flycatcher but the boys assured us they heard it.
Tonight I am back in my wooden cottage on the edge of Kibale Forest listening to the elephants making their way through the bush some metres from my house. We have already heard them fell one tree this evening (that’s quite a tally this season!)
The elephants went quiet for a few weeks so I had confidently resumed walking my favourite forest-edge trails. This week I had vowed to start running again but when elephants trash your trails and litter them with dung, you heed the warning: don’t run wearing earphones, you might slam straight into trouble. Even without the physical signs of their presence, there have been many days when I could just sense they were still in the vicinity. I hate to admit it but when you have to change your routine, the novelty of elephants can wear off. Perhaps I would mind less if we actually saw them. Forest-dwelling elephants are notoriously shy. We hear them, we smell them, we walk in their massivefootprints but we rarely see them.
This week there has been a lot of talk about Kampala going back into lockdown. Warned that President Museveni would make a speech to that effect, we jumped in the vehicle to shop in Fort Portal. We hadn’t driven far along Kamwenge Road when we saw the tell-tale signs of elephants: small trees had been knocked down and a pile of fresh dung left as a calling card.
Ahead a car stopped in the middle of the road – enjojo!
The elephants were in no rush to leave the tarmac and we enjoyed watching them amble slowly across the road. They didn’t seem at all bothered by our presence and stopped to feed just two metres from the roadside.
"Thank you for letting us see you!" I giggled excitedly as we waited a few minutes to check whether more elephants were crossing. It was a thrilling start to our day and a reminder of how much I love living on the edge of Kibale National Park.
The #LockdownDiaries continue (even though the President’s anticipated speech did not take place!)
If you enjoyed this story, look out for the next one in this series, exclusively here on ATCNews, written by Charlotte Beauvoisin.
The first stories in this series are: