Sunday, March 9, 2014

Murchison Falls Day 3

We woke up early on Sunday, but not nearly as early as we wanted. For some reason a lot of Ugandan tour operators and lodges aren't geared toward the early morning drives, which I think can be some of the best! A lot of lodges want you to eat breakfast first and then go out. So that's what we did Sunday, arriving for breakfast as soon as they opened, and had a quick fuel up before heading out.

Our drive was fun but not awesome; we found out later that the one group who went out before breakfast saw lions but nobody else did. Sigh. Our first big sighting was hyenas, not too far into the park. We saw one, then two, then soon the entire pack of six was visible. They marked territory, sniffed things out, posed for photos, and then took on up the road onto bigger and better pursuits. I've never seen a large pack of hyenas so close before; the ones in Amboseli were pretty far away in a mud pit. Very cool!

A few giraffes and quite a few DLTs crossed our path as we made our way to the river, where we reveled in birdlife, hippos, and buffalos. We saw a beautiful saddle-billed stork in the marshy area by the Nile and the usual egrets, yellow-billed storks, and assorted others. Another safari vehicle was taking a break nearby, its occupants getting out for a stretch. One woman had ventured away from the group right up to the river's edge. We kept waiting for a hippo or croc to get her, but she survived another day. Stupid.

We moved on, or tried to, as a giant herd of buffalo crossed the road in front of us. We were held up about five minutes waiting for them to move on, but, as buffalo are want to do, they kept stopping and staring at us. Not nature's smartest creatures.

We meandered back to the lodge without seeing any more predators, just the usual range of DLTs and assorted ungulates. We dispersed upon arriving, some napping, some lounging, but all relaxing for a lazy Sunday morning.

After lunch we hopped in the vehicle and headed down to the boat launch for our trip to the base of Murchison Falls. We boarded the low-to-the-water but sturdy aptly-named Hippo boat and headed off.

Almost immediately we saw two young elephants drinking water from the river and occasionally hiding in the foliage. Very cute. The trip was what you'd expect - lots of hippos and birds, the occasional crocodile, and ungulates grazing on the banks. It was wonderful. We didn't see any Shoebill storks, though, which was very disappointing, but I am hopeful I'll see one on a next trip.

We saw lots of bird nests in the cliffs, ingeniously camouflaged in natural and not-so-natural holes. Quite a few patas, colobus, and vervet monkeys were visible or at least audible as they played in the trees. We saw the elephant from the day before with the injured leg. He didn't look great and, in fact, as we were heading back to the launch he was lying down in the water. I really hope he was just resting.

The large schools of hippos were often content to just let us go by, though some insisted on standing and walking away from the boat. There were dozens of little ones, including some grazing on the banks with their mothers, which was a nice treat to see!

We passed the marker for the site of Ernest Hemingway's 1954 plane crash at Murchison Falls, the first of two crashes that day for him. Before long we docked against a small island in the middle of the river, the massively powerful Murchison Falls in sight a few hundred meters away. The power of the falls creates a great deal of foam, which was concentrated in this part of the river but visible even farther downstream. Very cool!

We headed back to the launch, seeing some of the same and some new animals. Getting back to the vehicle we elected to do a game drive rather than head right back to the lodge.

We had a good afternoon for giraffe sightings but not for much else. Or maybe I just took less photos of the same antelope we'd seen for two days. Sometimes it's hard to tell or remember. We did have an almost lion sighting, circling a lone male for an hour, though we never saw him. The other vehicle that got to the site a minute before us swears they saw him and they also circled with us, but I'm not sure they really did, because I've not known lions to be quite so good at (or inclined for) hiding.

Heading back to the lodge we enjoyed one last Ugandan sunset and then had a lovely last dinner with lots of laughter and stories.

The highlight of the evening happened a bit later. S and I had taken our showers and gotten ready for bed. We were in our respective beds reading by the light of our Kindles when we heard a commotion outside. S ran to the balcony and called me out. An adolescent elephant had made his way into the lodge grounds and was enjoying a meal of flowers and fresh water. He had apparently been there about 15 minutes already, according to E&A next door, who had been watching the whole production. The elephant had eluded the guards' efforts to scare him off and herd him off and instead turned on the spigot for the hose and was merrily drinking from it. When we arrived he was starting to get annoyed at the guards' efforts and was retreating quite unhappily, pulling down branches as he went. While perfectly capable of stepping over the fence at the edge of the property (right under our balconies!) he instead went through in one last act of defiance. Quite entertaining!

Early morning hyena

Two hyenas!


Heading on to greener pastures

Love the dust/smoke in this photo - adds to the ambiance.

Saddle-billed stork

This is where the silly tourist was standing

Slow-moving herd
Buffalo crossing


Not feeling very social


Injured leg ellie :-(

Still favoring that back leg

Nesting croc

Bird nests in the cliffs

All the holes are nests!

More nexting

Base of Murchison Falls

Foamy water

One of my favorite pics :-)

Hemingway's crash site

Pretty hippos


Nomads By Nature said...

That photo of hippo with its calf is brilliant! Sounds like you still had a lovely outing despite the lack of pre-dawn launch. I agree, sunrise and sunset are best viewing times.

Sadie said...

This whole trip was hippotastic! So much so that my friend S started a collection of hippo figurines and hippo-shaped items. I love seeing them out of the water!

Nomads By Nature said...

We don't have a collection, but we do have a quite large wooden carved hippo on our bookshelf. It wears an antique set of reading glasses and looks quite dignified. Hip even. I absolutely love my hippo - hope S finds as much joy in looking at her hippomobiilia in the years to come!