Birds of Murchison Falls

I've become a shameless bird nerd since I moved to Uganda and if any place could convert you to be a bird lover, this is it. There are 1,061 species of birds recorded in Uganda (a country the size of Oregon state), compared to 914 found in all of North America.

When I take out my camera to look for birds, I find myself entirely drawn into the present moment, all my senses alert and at the mercy of whatever decides to come into my life. Bird watching has a profoundly spiritual nature to it, forcing me to be with what is rather than clinging or resisting what I do or do not want. A beautiful and rare bird may flit on a branch for only a second without allowing me to capture it, but I must accept the moment has passed, let it go, and see what else Is Now.

The other special thing about birds is they may show up and grace your life in any unexpected moment. As I type this, a red-breasted sunbird flits around outside my window, drinking with its mate from the flowers in my yard. Birds have often been my saving-grace for living in the city. Even among the concrete chaos and the car fumes, they surprise me with their presence. I've spotted several beauties along the telephone lines in Kampala as I drive through the horrendous traffic.

Last year, I took a couple of trips to Murchison Falls National Park in northern Uganda. Armed with a new 400mm lens, I loved capturing the great variety of birds the park offers. One morning, Eric let me take a boat ride to the delta while he stayed at the lodge with our grumpy toddler. These hours alone with wildlife and my camera were exactly how I wished to recover from a long, sleepless night. Somehow, these birds heal me.

Murchison Falls National Park

This year I took two trips to Uganda's most popular national park - Murchison Falls National Park. We took a group of 30, who came for The Unity Initiative, on safari and I had to take an earlier trip to the park to hash out logistics for the group, so we made it into a family weekend.

This park remains one of the most popular game parks because the delta attracts animals, so you don't have to drive long to find good game sightings. We also managed to snag the best park ranger, who spotted a leopard hanging in a tree from an unimaginable distance.

I've been on safari more times than I can count now, but it never gets old and has become a favorite way for our family to get out of the city. There is always something about the wild that will beckon us. Here is a collection of some of my favorite photos of those two trips.

Traditional Buganda site

Eric and I once took a walk around our hill and stumbled upon the entrance to a Buganda cultural site.  We didn't go in, but I vowed to come back some time and learn more.  A few months ago, I took a couple of girl friends and we made a proper visit out of it.

Traditionally, the Buganda found their spirituality in places with a significant natural landmark - a waterfall, a large rock, or, in this case, a large tree.  The huge mango tree at the top of Makindye Hill gives residence to the spirit of a woman ancestor.  Other smaller shrines have popped up around the tree, each corresponding with a different ancestor.

Those who keep the place graciously showed us around and answered our questions.  We were grateful for the invitation to learn more about the traditions of the tribe we interact with daily, but has largely moved away from this part of their heritage.

A Saturday drive

Yesterday I went for a drive with a friend to the outskirts of Kampala.  We took back roads and drove with the windows down, inviting interaction from those we passed.  Here are a few of the sights we saw.

Mpanga Forest

There is always demand for a nature get-away that isn't far from Kampala and I wish I had discovered Mpanga Forest before living in Uganda for a couple of years to take better advantage of this little-known escape from the city.  Mpanga Forest is great for a day trip or a cheap option for spending the night away from the city; after our first visit a couple of years ago, I always keep it in mind as a place to escape life's hustle.

Butterflies, hornbills, and red-tailed monkeys are the main attractions at Mpanga Forest, and there are plenty to appreciate.  I saw each one from the porch of the simple bamboo cabin, where we spent the night at the beginning of this year.  The cabin is 40,000 shillings/night (just over $10) and provides the right atmosphere for rest and reflection.  Sitting on that porch surrounded by the forest, I felt places within myself opening, places I hadn't listened to in quite some time.

Here are some photos I have taken during a few different trips to Mpanga Forest.