Monday, 25 July 2016

A bird with a Million Frowns... Shoebill - Uganda

I have been underground from blogging for past almost two weeks - the reason was not that I was being chased by agency but that I was having a gala time birding in Uganda.

Uganda? of course - a birding destination par excellence. The most sought out bird before I visited that place was the 'Shoebill' - well after I reached there - it was sill the most desired bird - that along with a a few more I suppose. The rumours are that there are only 150 odd birds in wild in Uganda.  And like always - habitat destruction is the biggest threat to this bird. The birds are prehistoric in the looks and the bill looks like a shoe - the old wooden shoe from the yesteryears. Standing tall at 110-140 cm - it is a big bird. This bird is mentioned as Abu Markub, which means - the one with a shoe. The wiki and a lot of other forums describe this bird as one of the five most desirable birds in Africa.

During our visit to Uganda we had two occasions where we could have found the bird - one - the visit to the Mbamba Swamps - two - the Murchison falls. The eBird statics were describing the chances 50% and that was not good enough after flying for 6,000 odd km from Chandigarh - Mumbai - Nairobi to Uganda. But then - as with birdwatching - 100% is just not done normally. All the same - there was nothing to do really other than pray perhaps. Pray we all did and on second day of our visit we were on our way to Mbamba swamps. We were a group of 20 birdwatchers and were divided in a group of 3 to 4 each along with a bird guide and were out in the swamps on motorised canoe.
The stare...
The beauty of a different kind...
We were transported to the Prehistoric times - an experience worth the travel across the oceans...
I am sure you would not have got bored staring at these pictures - after all I did not get bored clicking a thousand of these...
We were traversing narrow paths in the swamps created by passing boats - and getting excited by all the birds seen. After all - virtually every bird was a lifer. African Jacana, Yellow-billed Ducks, Long-toed Plovers, Cisticolas and others. But at the back of the mind the hunt for Shoebill was still on. I was on the first canoe among our group - leading the charge. After about half an hour of hunt in the far distance we saw a canoe (not from our group) standing staring at something in the distance - and bingo - there was a solitary shoebill standing majestically in the far distance. What a sight it was. It was like we have gone back in time a million years and standing with a dinosaur in front of us. A million clicks and almost half an hour in company of the bird was not the reason we moved on - it was just that we had to explore another sections of the swamps and who knew we might just catch sight of another one of these. 

As we stood there staring at the majestic sight we were fed a lot of stories in by our guide in hushed tones. That included that it is an opportunistic hunter and will grab a duck or a bird if it ventures nearby, also that the hooked beak can grab fairly large fish out of the water with a snap.

We were lucky and unlucky that day - all at the same time. Lucky because we saw it, unlucky because this was the only sighting. Even Murchison falls was a wash out - guess eBird was right all along.

The boat and the birders...

4 comments:

Sundareswaran Vetaikorumagan said...

loved the write-up! expecting more on your African birding experience...

S S Cheema said...

Thanks a ton Mr Sundareswaran. I will surely be doing that for some time to come.

Sagarika Melkote said...

Thanks for sharing, Cheema! We were indeed lucky to spot the Shoebill! All that you've said about the bird is true, of course garnished with your inimitable sense of humour, it's an enjoyable write up - really liked reading it!

S S Cheema said...

Thanks a ton Sagarika - so many more birds to talk about, share and discuss. ��