Even the Starlings are Pretty

While the big game such as elephants, lions, and hippos, get the attention on an African safari, the birds deserve top billing as well.

Pied Kingfisher
A Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis) on the shoreline of Lake George, Uganda

The birds are amazing. From large, dramatic species like crowned cranes and hamerkops, to the small colorful sunbirds, there is an amazing richness to encounter in the African wilds.

There is only so many times you can take a photo of a lion or hippo. Between those big game encounters there are half a dozen birds to be viewed and photographed. From the delicate pin-tailed whydah to a wheeling flock of white-backed vultures, check out the birds.

Crowned Cranes
Crowned cranes (Balearica regulorum)

Fortunately I hired I guide who knew the local birds. This helped tremendously as we drove about the park on safari. Many of our stops were not for big game, we stopped readily for birds as well. As I was traveling alone we could stop without concern for other members of the tour, there was no schedule to keep.

Identification was helped using the Cornell Labs Merlin bird identification app. An easy to use guide with good photos, recorded calls, and the ability to narrow the list by geographic location using the large sightings database from eBird.

Yellow-billed stork (Mycteria ibis)
Yellow-billed stork (Mycteria ibis)

In five days I went from knowing zero local species to recognizing about forty some odd species. Not that I was starting from scratch, years of birding in North America has me to the point where I could recognize most of the groups. I know a hawk from a falcon and a crane from a heron when I see one. I at least knew what section of the bird guide to turn to.

Sunbird? What the heck is a sunbird? Oh!! That is pretty!!

Black-headed weaver
Black-headed weaver (Ploceus melanocephalus) in a colony at Katunguru

There was a pair of red-chested sunbirds nesting in a small tree right behind the lodge bungalow. Much of my birding was done at the lodge among the buildings. Heavy brush between the open savanna of the park and the riparian habitat of the Kazinga channel led to a profusion of bird life out the front door.

Have a little time before dinner? Take a stroll with the binoculars and find another species or two.

At the lodge I watched pied crows, gray-headed sparrows, bishops, robin-chats, hammerkops, and much more. A colony of black-headed weavers hung over the road, the chatter of the colony waking up a part of the morning chorus letting me know it was time to get out of bed.

I had expected the birds to be pretty impressive. But what I found was still surprising, an amazing array of avian life. It was a little surprising just how common many of these striking birds were in the park… Birds with crowns of feathers, large colorful bills, iridescent colors, or long tails of trailing feathers. Not to say they were all pretty… There were marabuo storks, the extreme opposite of pretty, but still impressive.

Rüppells starling
A Rüppells starling (Lamprotornis purpuroptera)

Yes, even the starlings are pretty in Uganda. Rüppells starlings would stop by the dining platform at the lodge, resplendent in iridescent plumage, a marked contrast to the dull black common starling in the US.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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