Birding Without Borders

Day 250: A Most-Wanted Bird

A day of picnicking leads to a rare bird sighting.

September 7, 2015: Ruhija, Uganda — Instead of stopping for a sit-down lunch every day, Livingstone and I have been having picnics in Uganda. This is great for many reasons, chiefly that (1) it saves time and expense; (2) you see more birds outside than you do inside a restaurant; and (3) you’re ready for anything at a moment’s notice. Livingstone always keeps a blanket and picnic basket folded and packed. Sometime around noon each day, we find a nice spot and eat our sandwiches with the birds.

Today we lunched on a patch of shady grass in the forest near Ruhija, about 2,000 meters above sea level. Conversation drifted and we were talking about skydiving and bungee jumping when Livingstone’s phone rang. He hung up in a hurry and leapt to his feet. “We’ve got to go,” he said, “right now!”

The blanket and picnic basket were unceremoniously thrown in the back of our Land Cruiser and we tore off. Just a couple miles down the road, we stopped and jumped out to meet Emos, a local bird guide, who was standing and gazing intently at a big, leafy tree. Emos gestured with a green laser pointer. “Do you see that branch? There’s a bird on top of it.” 

I focused my binoculars and saw nothing but leaves. “Where—?” I began to ask, but before I could finish phrasing the question, one of the leaves moved in an odd way. A leaf-sized, leaf-shaped, leaf-green bird materialized in my field of view: A Grauer’s Broadbill! Thanks to Emos’s quick phone call, Livingstone and I were looking at one of my most-wanted birds in Uganda.

Imagine a lime-green, three-inch-long creature which stays in treetops, doesn’t move much, and vocalizes so quietly you can hardly hear it, and you pretty much have the Grauer’s Broadbill. In Uganda, they are found only in this particular forest and they are devilishly inconspicuous. You can spend six hours looking for one, or you can spend a week looking for one. If you didn’t know its call, a quiet seep-seep-seeeep on a very high pitch, you could spend months in this forest without ever realizing the broadbill’s existence. It is probably the number one bird to see at Ruhija, if you’re lucky. In other words, finding a Grauer’s Broadbill is no picnic - except, of course, when it is.

New birds today: 13

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