Birding Without Borders

Day 244: After-Dark Birding

A night drive proves fruitful.

September 1, 2015, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda — Hardly anyone thinks of going on safari in Uganda, but this country has most of the same big animals as the rest of East Africa. I certainly hadn’t planned on seeing big game here, as most of my target birds are in Uganda’s southwest forests, but Livingstone suggested we spend a full day at Murchison Falls National Park before heading south.

The park is named after a spectacular waterfall on the White Nile River which, instead of a cascade, squeezes the entire river through a narrow crack. We stopped at the falls to admire its turbulent pressure. Apparently, 300 cubic meters of water is forced through this 20-foot-wide gap every second. It was intense to behold.

To reach the park itself, a ferry floated our Land Cruiser across the Nile, and that’s when the animals began to appear. Uganda kob, the country’s national mammal, mixed with Gray Crowned-Cranes, the country’s national bird. Giraffes seemed to be everywhere and groups of elephants peppered the landscape. Hartebeest, a sort of pale, nearsighted-looking animal with an extremely long face, meandered in between.

One nice thing about Murchison is the lack of traffic. Earlier this season, at Kruger (in South Africa) and the Serengeti (in Tanzania), I saw some amazing things, but so did everyone else. Every time we stopped in those places, half a dozen vehicles would appear. Not so in Uganda. Today we actually went several hours without seeing a single other person! It was nice to feel like the whole park was ours alone.

My favorite bird of the day came after sunset. Livingstone had an idea that, to find nightjars, we might try driving up and down a dirt airstrip near the park entrance after dark. We were given permission to do this by a shirtless man in a hut (the local guard/manager), and off we went. Almost immediately, nightjars began flitting across the headlight beams—and these birds had strange, long plumes trailing from each wing: Pennant-winged Nightjars! I didn’t get a photo, so you’ll have to Google it—I promise, it’s worth the look.

New birds today: 11

Year list: 4122

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