BWINDI NP, GORILLAS IN THE MIST

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Bwindi National Park is one of the best places in the world, alongside the Virunga forest, where to spot Mountain Gorillas in the wild.Bwindi National Park is also an excellent place for birdwatching, with more than 320 species of birds.Some of the main birding atractions are African Green Broadbill, Shelley’s Crimsonwing, Western Green Thinkerbird, African Wood Owl, Archer’s Robin-Chat, Red-throated Alethe, Fine-banded Woodpecker, Grauer’s Rush Warbler, Handsome Francolin, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Purple-breasted,Blue-headed and Regal Sunbird, Collared Apalis, Montane Oriole, Short-tailed Warbler,Black-faced Rufous Warblers,Kivu Ground-Thrush and Chapin’s Flycatcher.

Mountain Gorilla is a subspecies of Eastern Gorilla.They are the most endangered type of gorilla in the wild, with not more than 880 individuals spread in the Virunga Mountains, on the borders of DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, population that was studied by the famous primatologist Dian Fossey, and Bwindi, in Uganda.The fur of this type of gorilla is thicker and longer than that of its other gorilla counterparts.Adults have a characteristic bony crest on the top and the back of their heads, more pronounced in males.They are mainly diurnal hervivores, feeding on leaves, stems and shots early morning and late afternoon.They are terrestrial, spending most of the time on the ground although they sometimes climb on trees to feed on fruits and leaves, and quadrupedal, walking on its knuckles.They are sociable animals, living usually in groups of a dominant male and several females with their infants.The dominant male is known as silverback male due to its grey back hair that appears progressively in their adulthood.This male defends his group rather than his territory.

There are twelve groups of habituated gorillas in Bwindi, being those who live in the Buhoma area the most visited. The other groups are located in Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo area.The habituation program takes about 2 to 3 years.

To get there I went from Bigodi to Mbarara and then I got another bus from there to Kabale.In Kabale I booked a taxi to Bwindi National Park, Ruhija region.I paid about 120 euros for the car and driver and the night the driver have to spend inside the park.

We started our journey early afternoon and it took us several hours to reach the park.In Ruhija, inside the park, there are several accommodation options for all budgets.I paid about 20 euros to sleep in one of its most affordable options.

See Bwindi National Park below.The park starts from the forest area that you can appreciate in the picture.

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Next morning we went to Ruhija main headquarters.I paid about 500 euros for the gorilla permit.It included guide, assistants, entrance fee and transportation.They put me in a group of five people.They assigned us the Kyaguriro gorilla group and we received some basic instructions about how to behave in front of the gorillas.They told us that we would spend one hour with the gorilla group.

We got into a four wheels that went through a rough road for one hour and a half.At one point of the park, we started our trekking through the mountain forest.Our guide was in contact with the trackers of the group by walkie-talkie.The trackers had already located the place where our gorilla group slept last night and they were following their movements since early morning.

We trekked down a valley across the jungle.We didn’t follow any trail.The guide made the way by cutting the branches and leaves with a machete.It was the wildest adventure i’ve ever had !!!

The day was quite humid and i was constantly sweating.After a strenuous 2 hours trek we found the first signs of gorilla activity, the nests where they slept last night.The nests were made up of branches and   leaves and were quite big.We found them on the ground in a dense forested and bushy area.

I became very excited and i rapidly recovered my strength expecting to see soon these amazing creatures.After a while, we began to hear the voices of the trackers from the distance.They were still far but our guide was able to speak to them.The trekking was getting harder as we had to cross through many bushes and sticks.Half and hour later we finally met them.They took us a few meters farther where we could see the first specimen of Mountain Gorilla.We were quite lucky indeed cause other groups sometimes must walk 4 to 5 hours to spot the gorillas.

I remembered the first thing i saw was a dark back shape.I couldn’t believe it was a gorilla !! It looked almost like a doll !! We walked around the gorillas avoiding to disturb them as much as we could.We saw some females with their infants sitting among the bushes and eating some leaves.They seemed so relaxed that i feel very comfortable to stay with them.I took my camera and started shooting.

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The infants were roaming near their mothers.

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 Other females were lying on the tree while feeding also on the leaves.

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Some of them felt curious looking at us attentively.

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 Our guide began to scrutinise the canopy trying to find the silverback male.We spotted him while he was eating on the top of a tree.After half an hour the male decided to descend.

I cannot forget when i saw the male walking on the ground for the first time.He had a massive and powerful muscular body and moved his buttocks with grace.I also remembered the strong smell he emanated and the large amount of flies and other bugs that surrounded him.You can see the bugs that are the many brownish dots of the third picture.

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Later on,other females with their infants also descended on the ground.

After spending time feeding on leaves, some individuals of the group lay on the ground to take a rest.

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Their faces looked so human that it never stopped to amaze me !!! I still remember it now with awe !!

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Our time with them came to an end and we had to come back to our jeep.We went uphill along a very steepy slope.It was quite challenging but i was still so stunned that it didn’t matter at all.

After 2 hours we found our car.Once in the headquarters, our guide gave us a certificate of our visit to the park.

I had the best wildlife adventure in all my life !! I recommend hands down this breathtaking experience  !!!

By the way, don’t forget to visit also Lake Buyonyi, with many Batwa villages near its shores !!!

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Next stop  Kybuye, in Rwanda, exploring the nearbies of  Kivu Lake to find some amazing birdlife  !!

See you soon my friends !!!!

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KIBALE NP, CHIMPANZEES IN THE WILD

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Kibale National Park is one of the best well-known parks in the world where to see and have a nice experience with Common Chimpanzees in the wild.This park consists in a dense tropical rainforest that hosts 13 species of primates and an abundant birdlife.

The park is home of 375 species of birds.It’s one of the best parks in East Africa where to see Green-breasted Pitta,which is vocally active during the months of June to August.Ground Thrush is an endemic bird found only in here.Other interesting birdlife includes African grey Parrot,Red-winged Francolin, Red-chested Flufftail, White-naped Pigeon, African Pitta, Joyful Greenbul, Grey-winged Robin, Grey-throated Flycatcher, White-bellied Crested Flycather, Masked and Black-capped Apalises, Uganda Woodland Warbler, Chestnut-winged Starling, Orange-tufted and Tiny Sunbirds and Grey-headed Oliveback among others.

To get there i got into a motorbike from Bigodi to Kanyanchu Station.The rough road goes through the park and locals told me that sometimes chimpanzees can be seen crossing the road.Once there i paid for the hefty permit to see chimpanzees, that costed me about 130 euros.It includes entrance fee and a guide that  will locate a group of chimpanzees.The guides were armed for our own security to avoid any animal attack or illegal poachers that sometimes roam inside the park.

We walked through the jungle while our guide was in touch with other park staff that were active locating the main groups of habituated chimpanzees that live inside the park.The habituation program of wild chimps to human presence takes at least five to six years.

After 30 minutes walking we could spot the first specimen of Chimpanzee.It was a male that was quietly sitting on the ground.img_7823

The male looked at us attentively when he noticed our presence.

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Afterwards, we saw a female that was in heat laying on a branch of a tree.Notice the inflated buttocks of the female in the picture below.

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Two of the males were excited and started to scream and moved agitatedly.From time to time,they even shook the branches.One of them went down and began to drum on the base of the trunk of a tree.They kept performing these mating displays for quite a while.I have to admit that their screams were terrifying and i felt a bit nervous while i was there.

 After about 20 minutes of frenetic activity, the group began to calm down.I felt more comfortable and i could resume the photo shooting.

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The males jumped on the trees in search of leaves and fruits.These animals are omnivorous and they often hunt in a troop lead by the dominant male.They sometimes even practise cannibalism, eating infants of other chimpanzee groups.

Notice the abnormal big testicles of the male in the second picture.This is attributed to sperm competition due to the promiscuous mating behaviour of chimpanzees. Producing more sperm than the competitor enhances the odds of successful fertilisation. This has triggered evolution towards big testicles in chimpanzees and bonobos and small testicles in gorillas and gibbons, which the former living in harems with several females and hence without sperm competition and the latter being socially monogamous.

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Chimpanzees are quite curious by nature and they were observing us from time to time, while they were not feeding.

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These social creatures were seen continuously interacting with one another.They usually live in large communities of several males and females.Males and females attains a rank in their social hierarchy.The dominant males, called alpha males, are the most influential, controlling and mantaining cohesion inside the group.Alpha males have many allies in the group although they will show their power by erecting their hair to look bigger in size and charge when feel threatened.

In contrast, Bonobos, the other species of the genus Pan, are organised in female dominant societies, less hierarchical and aggressive, which its individuals use quite often sex as a way to solve conflicts.I call them the “hippie” Great Apes.

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One of them took a nap in one of the nests they built on the branches last night.These nests are made up with branches lined above with soft leaves and twigs.They protect them from predators, insect bites and it’s believed that help them to thermoregulate their bodies.

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We were allowed to stay with them only for an hour.Our group returned to the main station happy to have this amazing adventure.Our guide was very friendly and knowledgeable, thing that makes us enjoy even more our experience !!!

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I would like to do some birdwatching here but i had to reduce costs and continue my trip to Bwindi.

Next stop Bwindi National Park, with another thrilling adventure in a quest for Mountain Gorillas in the wild !!!

See you soon my friends !!!

BIGODI WETLAND, A SWAMP HABITAT FOR MONKEYS AND BIRDS

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Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary is located about 6 km south of the Kibale Forest Park’s Kanyanchu visitor center.It’s a birdwatcher’s haven, with around 200 species of birds found here.Its main birding attractions are Great Blue Turaco, Red-chested Cuckoo, African Pigmy kingfisher, Shinning-Blue Kingfisher, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Western Nicator, Papyrus Gonolek, White-winged Warbler, Willow’s Warbler,Green Hylia, African Blue Flycatcher and Brown Illadopsis among others.

The park is also home of eight primate species as Grey-cheeked Mangabey, Red Colobus Monkey, L’Hoest Monkey, Red-tailed Monkey, Black and white Colobus, Vervet Monkey, Blue Monkey, Olive Baboons and sometimes even Chimpanzees that come from Kibale NP.Other mammals can be found here as well: sitatungas, bushbucks, mongooses, bushpigs otters and more.

To get there i catched a van from Entebbe to Fort Portal and then another one to Mbarara that went through Kibale National Park and dropped me in the little and peaceful town of Bigodi.Once there i went to Chimp’s Nest Lodge, following Lonely Planet recommendation.The location and the rooms were nice and cozy but the staff was lazy and quite unfriendly.I decided to move to another guesthouse, where i could sleep and eat for about 15 euros per night.

Next morning,i woke up early at 6 o’clock.I went to Bigodi Wetland Reserve.It’s just a short stroll from the town.In the entrance, I paid about 25 euros for a 3 hours guide.We started following the trail that surrounds the swamp area.

Our first lifer was a Red-chested Cuckoo perched on a branch early morning.

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We continued walking when after a while we could spot a Red-tailed Monkey on the top of a tree,see picture on the top of the post.This cute monkey has a unmistakable white patch in his nose and white cheeks.It was seen foraging for fruits, although it can sometimes eat leaves,flowers and insects when fruits are scarce.This primate is found from Angola to Tanzania in a different variety of habitats.However it’s becoming endangered due mainly to hunting and deforestation.

The swamp forest area was very prolific in birds.Shinning-Blue Kingfisher is a stunning bird with an electric blue coloration in its head and back that i spotted here. African Green Pigeon,Blue-spotted Wood Dove,Great Blue Turaco,Yellow-rumped Thinkerbird, African Pigmy Kingfisher, Yellow-billed and Hairy-breasted Barbet, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Western Nicator, Little Greenbul, African Thrush, Green Hylia, Ashy and African Blue Flycatcher, Brown Illadopsis, Black-headed, Black-necked and Viellot’s black Weaver were found in this forest area among others.

The Black and White Colobus and the less common L’Hoest Monkey was seen here as well.L’Hoest monkey is a vulnerable species that lives mainly in DR Congo.It has a dark fur with a brownish patch on the back and a white beard.Unfortunately the day was quite dark and i couldn’t take decent shots of these animals to post them here.

On a clearing area,we saw a solitaire Wolly-necked Stork accompanied by a Black-headed Heron.Wolly-necked Stork is a vulnerable species, although widespread in a different variety of habitats in Africa and Asia.Its white “furry” neck gives its name and its wings have a beautiful iridiscent purple dark coloration. You can appreciate its iridiscent wings and reddish eyes in the picture if you check carefully.

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We spotted the rare Grey-cheeked Mangabey moving and feeding on fruits at about 10 o’clock.This species of monkey is found in Central Africa, form Nigeria to Uganda.This is mainly a lowland species of monkey that lives in primary and swamp forests.

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A Western Nicator was seen when going back to the main gate.This bird is a medium sized passerine bird that inhabits from Senegal to Uganda.It has olive green upperparts and pale white underparts.Notice its characteristic yellow spots on its wings on the picture below.

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On the nearbies of the park i spotted Bronze Manikin, Bronze Sunbird and Red-chested Sunbird several times late morning and mid afternoon.Grey-headed Negrofinch was another nice bird seen on the nearbies early morning.

Nice variety of primates and birds seen in only one morning !!!

Next stop Kibale National Park, seeking for chimpanzees in the wild !!!

See you soon my friends !!!

 

BIGODI WETLAND SANCTUARY BIRD CHECKLIST.JANUARY 2016

Black-headed Heron

Wolly-necked Stork

Marabou Stork

Sacred Ibis

Hadada Ibis

Lizzard Buzzard

African Green Pigeon

Blue-spotted Wood Dove

Tambourine Dove

Red-eyed Dove

Great Blue Turaco

Red-chested Cuckoo

Speckled Mousebird

Woodland Kingfisher

African Pigmy Kingfisher

Shinning Blue Kingfisher

Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill

Crowned Hornbill

Yellow-Rumped Thinkerbird

Yellow-billed Barbet

Hairy-breasted Barbet

Buff-spotted Woodpecker

African Pied Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

Western Nicator

Common Bulbul

Little Greenbul

African Thrush

White-winged Warbler

Willow’s Warbler

Green Hylia

Red-faced Cisiticola

Ashy Flycatcher

Black-and-white Shrike Flycatcher

Chestnut Wattled Eye

African Blue Flycatcher

Brown Illadopsis

Yellow White-Eye

Bronze Sunbird

Green-headed Sunbird

Collared Sunbird

Red-chested Sunbird

Black-headed Weaver

Black-necked Weaver

Violet’s Black Weaver

Grey-headed Negrofinch

Bronze Manikin

Other animals:

Grey-cheeked Mangabey

Red-tailed Monkey

Vervet Monkey

Black and White Colobus

L’Hoest Monkey