July 2005 – Uganda Field Trip with Colin Tilbury
3 July 2005
09:25. Leave Johannesburg International Airport on flight SA 206 for Entebbe, Uganda. Colin’s luggage weighed in at 22 kg and mine at 16 kg. Pleasant flight – we had a lot to chat about and read the Sunday papers.
14:25. Arrived at Entebbe – flew over the lake and it is enormous with lots and lots of little islands. The passport control queues were very long and slow. Had to buy a visa – $30 USD. The local currency is shelling and the exchange rate around R1/Sh2.50. Our Hertz car was not at the airport and we were transported to Kampala. Colin asked our driver whether he was a racing driver! Upon arrival in Kampala we were upgraded to Toyota Sprinter with air conditioning. Bonus! Headed west.
The trip to Mbarara reminded me a lot of Malawi – fruit and vegetable stands and squatter huts with lots and lots of people, bicycles, minibus taxis and 125 cc motorcycles, like in Thailand. The roads were not too bad except for stretches in Kampala and the local driving was scary at times.
Colin was driving and did a very good job. Local villages had enormous speed bumps and it was often impossible to drive over them without scraping the bottom of the car. We stopped for a dozen bananas and two cooked mealies and that cost us R1.80. We saw many cars with fish tied to the front grill and eventually came across the fish sellers. Saw a few catfish, which they caught with a line and earthworms as bait, and lots of big Tilapia, some around 4 – 5 kg! These sold for about R20.00 each and were netted. (See image on right)
Lots of cattle around, some with enormous thick horns, by far the thickest I have ever seen.
We ended up in the Pelican Hotel in Mbarara close to 22:00 and just made it for dinner which consisted of very oily chicken and chips (Colin ended up with fish and chips) at Sh4, 500 each. The dining room was poorly lit and rather primitive, like something out of the 60’s in South Africa. Accommodation cost Sh30, 000 each and we had functional rooms, each with a TV that didn’t work and eventually no running water. We took a walk down the street outside the hotel and saw one or two Hemidactylus cf. mabouia but they disappeared very quickly. I managed to get one specimen to photograph.
4 July 2005
07:00. Breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs on toast, pork sausages (managed to eat one!) and fruit – paw-paw, watermelon and pineapple, and Star coffee. The coffee tin looks as if it should contain sardines. Heading for Kasese and Fort Portal.
07:48. 18578 on odometer. About to leave the hotel. Colin paid for the accommodation and meals – Sh77, 700.
08:22. 18596 on odometer. Stopped at a hedge next to the main road and Colin (despite gypo guts) got two male chameleons (Trioceros ellioti). (See Picture on right) It is a beautiful green chameleon the size of Bradypodion thamnobates. They were both 1.2 – 1.5 m off the ground on the sunny side of the hedge. Colin was very quick to spot the chameleons – I had a really good look but couldn’t spot any.
13:55. Have now driven 482 km – in Kasese. Stopped a few times and scratched around but very hot and too dry – around 29°C. Photographed baboon. Their version of waterbuck, kob (looks a bit like impala). (See picture on left) Also saw crowned crane, purple-coloured loerie with yellow beaks and what looked like narina trogon. About to have goat stew with rice and matooki (cooked green banana). Ate at the Green Garden restaurant at the Saad Hotel in Kasese.
17:00. 18873 km on odometer. Have traveled 563 km and at Rwenzori Travelers Inn (Sh25, 000 per person per night) in Fort Portal. Had a coffee on the verandah, watched the Marabou storks raiding garbage dumps, and then off to look for chameleons.
18:16. At a camping site at Lake Nkarumu where we had an omelet for dinner (@ Sh3100). Not great but filled our stomachs. N 00° 31′ 06.2″ E 30° 18′ 06.7″ 1519 m.a.s.l. Walked down to the lake in search of chameleons but nothing. Colin got a Bufo sp. and I got a Hyperolius sp. Saw a massive fruit bat, two tree mammals with long tails (palm civet?) and a bunch of colubus monkeys. I got a Hemidactylus cf. mabouia on one of the buildings and Colin saw some Trioceros ellioti on the way back to the hotel. Saw some more Hemidactylus on the walls of the hotel but they ran off very quickly. Ate a plate of chips, drank a Coke and off to bed (Chips and Coke Sh3, 000).
5 July 2005
06:00. Up and ready for breakfast but the time zone change doesn’t make sense. (See Picture on left) It’s supposedly 07:00 but certainly feels like 06:00. Will be purchasing some provisions and heading for the northern end of the Ruwenzori Mountains in our search for Bradypodion carpenteri. Colin has only ever found two – and that was 15 years ago. One male and one female. Prior to that the chameleon has only ever been found when it was described some 85 years ago!
07:39. Checking out of the hotel – must still buy food for the mountain. Colin still has the runs but purchased some Flagyl and medicated himself. It’s a cool morning and quite misty. Paid Sh50, 000 for the accommodation. Bought some canned food, biscuits and chocolate bars at Andrew’s Brothers Supermarket for Sh21, 000 and took a taxi to the base of the mountain. It took quite a bit of negotiating with the taxi drivers but we ended up paying less than half of what they initially quoted. The first guy wanted Sh60, 000 but we ended up paying Sh20, 000. Got us a porter each and started climbing 09:15 from 1650 m.a.s.l. The porters charged us Sh12, 000 each, a pretty good deal for us! It was quite heavy going and we stopped at 1800 m.a.s.l. for a rest. Colin spotted a lizard on a tree stump and we ended catching two of them. They appeared to be Jackson’s Forest Lizard (Adolfus jacksoni). We carried on up the mountain and our porters abandoned us just short of a military base virtually on the top of the mountain. I got the idea that they were scared that the military guys may take their money. The military guys were friendly – in fact a little too friendly. They even wanted to carry our gear for us and invited us to take a short cut through their temporary camp. These guys were living like rats – in trenches dug into the ground and covered with branches and leaves! Their weapons, AK 47’s, were shiny from excessive handling. Needless to say, they eventually asked us for food and money. The commander of the unit informed us that he would appreciate some money because “technically, I am bankrupt!” We each ate a chocolate for some energy and then continued to the top – 2380 m.a.s.l.
The forest is magnificent – cannot wait to look for chameleons!
Set up camp on level land in a bit of a clearing next to a bamboo thicket. It’s just after 13:00 and the sun is filtering through the trees and it’s quite cool.
Walked around in the afternoon but no sign of any reptile or amphibian. Also looked for the stream on the eastern slope to collect some water but couldn’t find it. Got back to camp at about 16:00 and had a rest.
18:20 Ate some tomato and basil soup and then went looking for chameleons. Hard going – we walked west along a path for about an hour but saw nothing.
Then Colin found a Rhampholeon boulengeri female about 1.5 m off the ground, close to the pathway. We continued looking for quite a while but got nothing and decided to head east. Colin got a male Bradypodion carpenteri male about 1.6 m off the ground on a bare stick out in the open. A bit further east, quite close to the military camp, we got a second male Bradypodion carpenteri about 4 m off the ground, also on a bare twig. We cut a piece of bamboo and got the chameleon to walk onto the bamboo. It was a larger male with a damaged tail. (See picture on right) We saw another male, also in the open on a bare twig but about 10 m off the ground. We decided to call it a day – it was windy and cold. It was pretty much mission accomplished as we set out specifically to find Bradypodion carpenteri and never though that the Musandama forest would produce so quickly.
Wednesday 6 July 2005
07:00. Slept very well and had some sweet tea for breakfast, an energy bar and packing up to head down the mountain. A long, hard walk down the mountain with a few rest stops. We ate some chocolate bars and managed to avoid the military guys.
Also saw more Adolfus jacksoni – they appeared to be quite common. Managed to get some Agamas and Acanthocersus at the bottom of the mountain, as well as a DOR Philothamnus. We then walked to the nearest local village where we had some welcome cold drinks (Sh300) as well as some bananas (Sh300). Squeezed into a minibus taxi (Sh2000 each) and headed back to Fort Portal.
We booked into the Rwenzori Travelers Inn again and after we did some washing, we had a plate of chips and some coffee (Sh3, 800) on the verandah. Fort Portal is a busy town with a constant flow of vehicles and masses of people moving in all directions. We headed for the forest camp site to do some photography and saw an olive D.O.R. Lamprophis cf. capensis, or according to Steve’s book, L. fuliginosus. Looks a lot like L. inornatus except for the white line on the side of the head.
Colin had told me that the chameleons from the area have a habit of leaping off a branch and will quickly coil up to disappear amongst the leaf litter on the ground. (See on right). We experienced that when attempting to photograph some – very frustrating. You put a chameleon on a branch and it just leaps into the air. We photographed the colubus monkeys at the camp site but didn’t have sufficient light to get good pics. And to make things worse, we were somewhat harassed by a bunch of Dutch tourists who were photographing over our shoulders. Bloody tourists! Headed back to the hotel for steak and chips (Sh16, 000)
07 July 2005
07:00. Breakfast and about to leave for Nyakalengijo. Accommodation cost Sh25, 000 for a single room and Sh35, 000 for a double. (See Pic 10)
14:00. Arrived at Nyakalengijo after a pleasant but eventless drive and paid our fees for 4 days on the mountain. We were now after B. xenorhynum, another chameleon that I have never seen and would love to photograph. Our mountain access permits cost $324 USD each – rather expensive! We had an omelet for lunch and took a walk towards the mountain, scratching around. Saw some skinks (Trachylepis maculilabris), Acanthocersus atricollis and a few Trioceros ellioti.
We bumped into Alan Channing and his colleagues – they had just been up the mountain looking for frogs and had a lot of gear with them. I was wondering why they chose the dry season for frogging but never asked. We gave them a lift to where they were living and then had a bit of a nap. I wasn’t feeling well at all. We had a welcome hot shower, or was it a bath. A tub of hot water which we had to pour over our bodies. It was great.
19:00. Dinner at the community centre consisting of goat stew and chips. I was still not feeling well and Colin ate my stew. Had a Coke. We then drove down to the main road to get a cell signal and looked fore chameleons. There were lots of Trioceros ellioti but nothing else. We got to bed early and I was feeling awful. (See local butchery on right)
8 July 2005
07:30. Up and ready for 4 days on the mountain but not feeling well. Had a chat
with Colin and we decided to postpone the trip up the mountain. I suggested that Colin goes up with a guide while I remain behind to recover but he decided to stay. I spent most of the morning in bed and drank some tablets that Colin had given me. He was of the opinion that I had contracted some virus. Helps to collect with a medical doctor. Colin headed for town to change some money and rebook our tickets back home. We had decided to shorten the trip and head home. A man from the community centre brought us 3 Bradypodion xenorhynum to photograph – a juvenile and two adults. We were looking for B. johnstoni but he told us that we had to go up the mountain to get them.
20:30. Colin made some oxtail soup and basmati rice with chicken viennas. I managed to get some food down and we took a walk up the hill with our torches. Ran into Alan Channing and co again where they were frogging in some wetlands.
Saw some Bufo and Leptopelis. Further up the hill we saw some T. ellioti, some quite high up (>5 m). Colin got a beautiful male B. xenorhynum and we saw another male quite high up. We also managed to find two B. johnstoni, both females. They were about 3 m off the ground. Pity we didn’t get any males – would have loved to get some pics.
9 July 2005
07:00. Feeling much better! Had some sweet tea and oats and on the road again. Accommodation cost us Sh60, 000. 09:00 Photographed a female T. ellioti at the type locality Bugoye.
13:18. Had lunch at the Green Garden Restaurant at the Saad Hotel – beef and chicken curry (Sh9, 000). Now on 19165 km. Nice hot sunny day.
15:13. Stopped off at Kalinza Forest to find a camping spot but the facilities were poor and the prices very high.
17:00. In Kalinza Forest, adjacent to a tea estate. Waiting for it to get dark so that we can look for chameleons. Colin made some 2 minute noodles. He would be a wonderful wife! We spent about 11⁄2hours looking for chameleons – Colin got one Rhampholeon boulengeri which we photographed. Headed for Mbarara and got there quite late. The Round Table had some function and it was very noisy with lots of drunken people around. They were knocking on our doors. Stumbling down stairs and singing loudly until the early hours of the morning.
10 July 2005
05:00. Up and getting ready for an early start. Had a sleepless night with all the noise and was bugged by mosquitoes. Had breakfast and checked out. Breakfast cost Sh5, 000 and the accommodation Sh30, 000. Refueled on the way to Kampala (Sh75, 000 + $20) and nearly ran into some problems. It was Sunday, Colin had run out of local currency and we couldn’t change Dollars to pay for the fuel. We sorted it out eventually.
10:35. D.O.R. Naja melanoleuca about 50 km from Kampala.
Our flight back to Johannesburg was pleasant and the trip memorable. It was my first trip with Colin and I really enjoyed being with him in the field. I look forward to joining him in Papua New Guinea at some stage.