Archive for the ‘Uganda’ Category


July 18, 2017

Harry Fuller writes: Recently a long-time friend, Dr. David Sachs of Palo Alto, sent me a great photo of a fish eagle taking a fish from a lake in Zimbabwe. He asked a little about the eagle and I inadvertently buried him in data.
David, I got your recent note with the action shot of the African Fish Eagle. Kate and I saw this bird several times around the lakes in Uganda. Handsome bird. Yes, the fish eagle would carry food back to brooding mate and then to young after they hatch. The nest would never be left unguarded once the first egg is laid. And the nest has to be protected from such possible nest thieves as Red-tailed Hawks and Canada Geese. Even winter nesting Great Horned Owls are known to steal an Osprey’s nest that has been years in the building. The owls nest even before many Osprey have returned to their nesting territories. Many large birds (storks, eagles and osprey) will usually return to previous year’s nest if they can, and simply repair and remodel. Then young eagles will spend over a month in the nest before they can even begin to try short flights and then they are fed wherever they perch after leaving the nest. To become an adept predator a young bird needs lots of practice and parental support. At least their “college” is free.
The African Fish Eagle is in the same genus as our own Bald Eagle and the White-tailed Eagle of Northern Europe. They are all in Haliaeetus genus. Haliaeetus is a compound of two Greek words, translated literally as “sea eagle.” Our Bald Eagle is not really a “sea eagle,” more strictly a bird of marsh, lake and river though it will fish in quiet salt-water lagoons and estuaries. The fish eagle is smaller than our Haliaeetus eagle and the European one. It is less than thirty inches tall. An adult Bald Eagle will be at least 31 inches tall and the female (which is always the larger of the pair) can be over three feet tall with a wingspan up to 7 feet or more. Our Bald Eagle does fish but in winter often lives on carrion from dead waterfowl as large as swans. This eagle has evolved an immunity to avian cholera and botulism which is handy in winter when large number of migrants waterfowl sicken and die on any over-crowded wintering range.
I have always though the Bald Eagle—contra Benj. Franklin who favored the Wild Turkey—was a perfect symbol for our money-mad country. This eagle will catch its own fish but often uses theft, bullying or simply good luck to find food. Other birds’ diseases leave carrion for eagles, ditto road kills. An eagle pair is great at ganging up on a hard-working Osprey (almost a pure piscine feeder) and stealing its fish. I have also seen eagles take ground squirrel away from Red-tailed Hawks. The Bald Eagle is sort of a hedge fund manager looking to make off with anybody’s else’s hard work or profit for its own selfish good. They are pretty good parents, of course. But among adults there is only begrudged sharing of a carcass. Often one eagle will have found carrion and a coterie of ravens will land just out of reach, waiting for the scraps. The Bald Eagle has one other great strength which is its great strength. It can easily remove bits of frozen deer or goose flesh from a hard-frozen corpse. Some scavengers like ravens and Turkey Vultures lack that strength. Eagles can winter anywhere there is food, fresh or frozen. However, the Turkey Vulture must migrate south to where the nights are warm enough to not freeze a carcass solid. On the Pacific Slope that is generally south of Redding or along the coast. Now, with global warming, a few vultures are wintering in Willamette Valley.
Our other native American eagle is the Golden. It’s a member of the large tribe in the Aquila genus. Aquila is Latin for “eagle” and especially refers to a sharply hooked beak. It is believed that “eagle” derived from old French word “agile” which in turn derived from the original Latin.
Our Golden Eagle has cousins all over the world, most smaller in size. The American Golden females can be up to 40 inches tall. Most of the Old World eagles in this genus are less than three feet and most are some shade of brown with little bold patterning (except the bright white on the Wahlberg’s Eagle). These are birds of mostly open terrain. Our Golden is a specialist in catching jack rabbits and other denizens of our grasslands and prairie. This bird takes talon strength to the max. It can muster several hundred pounds per square inch pressure when it grabs prey. It generally hits prey from behind and kills quickly by crushing the victim. They often nest high in tall trees or on cliff faces in dry areas where there are no trees. Nobody bothers a Golden Eagle in any serious way in daylight.
Two quick stories: I once saw a territorial male Osprey go about trying to drive off a Golden Eagle soaring over a hillside near the Ospreys’ nest. Twice the Osprey screamed and then dove down toward the eagle’s back…each time the eagle flipped over onto its back at the last instant and invited the Osprey to come on down. The eagle’s talons were open and waiting. Each time the Osprey swerved off at the last minute. Those talons would have meant a crushing defeat and death, literally.
A friend in Ashland lives out in the parched, grassy hillsides of the lower Cascades. The Golden Eagle and the Red-tailed both hunt there regularly. A pair of Golden Eagles were nesting on a rocky point uphill from my friend’s house. He often saw the smaller and more agile Red-tails harass the eagles as they hunted, hauled food to the young, built their nest. This is common in avian world—smaller, quicker birds pester bigger, slower predators. I’ve even seen blackbirds go after a vulture which eats only carrion. An angry hummingbird can drive off a huge raven. My friend was out on his hillside planting oak saplings to restore the chaparral that was once there. He saw a Red-tail swoop down the slope and nail a California ground squirrel. Then the hawk tried to get a good grip to haul away its fairly weighty prey. Shortly my friend sensed a big shadow speed by and looked up to see a Golden Eagle hit that Red-tail from behind. Astounded, he watched the eagle tear apart the hawk and the squirrel, fairly efficiently, then fly off. Nothing was left on the ground but shredded bits of both creatures. Apparently the Golden Eagle was settling an old and bitter score.
“Eagle” is an old English word thrown around in naming many unrelated species in the Old World. Some eagles there would be simply big “hawks” here. We would not consider a bird less than two feet tall worthy of that grand a moniker. There are even now birds commonly named “hawk-eagle,” go figure. Perhaps the most striking of the African eagles is the Bateleur, 28 inches tall. In the Old World “buzzard” is synonymous with “buteo,” the genus of our Red-tails. “Vulture” in old world is a group of large predatory birds, not strictly scavengers like our vultures and condors who are actually well-adapted members of the stork family, unrelated to Old World vultures. So it goes in the world of taxonomy vs. common lingo.

Here’s my own shot of a pair of fish eagles perched in a forest in Uganda, taken on an PIB-sponsored trip:FISH EAGLES


April 1, 2014


University of California, Davis
April 1, 2014

[editor’s note: I presume this is not an April Fool’s joke…]

Why zebras have black and white stripes is a question that has intrigued scientists and spectators for centuries. A research team led by the University of California, Davis, has now examined this riddle systematically. Their answer is published today, April 1, in the online journal Nature Communications.

The scientists found that biting flies, including horseflies and tsetse flies, are the evolutionary driver for zebra stripes. Experimental work had previously shown that such flies tend to avoid black-and-white striped surfaces, but many hypotheses for zebra stripes have been proposed since Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin debated the problem 120 years ago. These include:

* A form of camouflage
* Disrupting predatory attack by visually confusing carnivores
* A mechanism of heat management
* Having a social function
* Avoiding ectoparasite attack, such as from biting flies

The team mapped the geographic distributions of the seven different species of zebras, horses and asses, and of their subspecies, noting the thickness, locations, and intensity of their stripes on several parts of their bodies. Their next step was to compare these animals’ geographic ranges with different variables, including woodland areas, ranges of large predators, temperature, and the geographic distribution of glossinid (tsetse flies) and tabanid (horseflies) biting flies. They then examined where the striped animals and these variables overlapped.

After analyzing the five hypotheses, the scientists ruled out all but one: avoiding blood-sucking flies.

“I was amazed by our results,” said lead author Tim Caro, a UC Davis professor of wildlife biology. “Again and again, there was greater striping on areas of the body in those parts of the world where there was more annoyance from biting flies.”

While the distribution of tsetse flies in Africa is well known, the researchers did not have maps of tabanids (horseflies, deer flies). Instead, they mapped locations of the best breeding conditions for tabanids, creating an environmental proxy for their distributions. They found that striping is highly associated with several consecutive months of ideal conditions for tabanid reproduction.

Why would zebras evolve to have stripes whereas other hooved mammals did not? The study found that, unlike other African hooved mammals living in the same areas as zebras, zebra hair is shorter than the mouthpart length of biting flies, so zebras may be particularly susceptible to annoyance by biting flies.

“No one knew why zebras have such striking coloration,” Caro said. “But solving evolutionary conundrums increases our knowledge of the natural world and may spark greater commitment to conserving it.”

Yet in science, one solved riddle begets another: Why do biting flies avoid striped surfaces? Caro said that now that his study has provided ecological validity to the biting fly hypothesis, the evolutionary debate can move from why zebras have stripes to what prevents biting flies from seeing striped surfaces as potential prey, and why zebras are so susceptible to biting fly annoyance.

Co-authors on the study include Amanda Izzo and Hannah Walker with the UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology; Robert C. Reiner Jr., of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and the Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health; and Theodore Stankowich with the Department of Biological Sciences at California State University, Long Beach.


My zebra pictures were taken on the dry grasslands of Uganda in 2010. That was on a PIB organized trip that included more than two dozen mammal species plus lots of great birding from sunbirds to the Shoebill.ZEBRA ROLLS-MBUTO




Additional information:
* Read the study:


November 30, 2011

There are some words that thrill a birder’s heart: “endemic” or “rare” or “newly discovered.”  Another littel phrase that can make your day, your week, even your birding career: “first time.”  We at Partnership for International Birding already knew that our man in East Africa is a birder without peer.  Johnny Kamugisha is the ace of Uganda bird guides.  Now he gets to add the phrase “first ever” to his accomplishments.

Here’s a picture he took of a Gray Pratincole (Glareola cinerea).  It is a common-enough bird in Africa, but only along the Atlantic Coast.  That’s WEST Africa.  Johnny took these shots at the Kazinga Channel in Uganda.  This is the first time this bird has been recorded in Uganda. That’s EAST Africa.  It remains unknown in neighboring countries like Kenya and Tanzania.  There is a single previous record in nearby Burundi.

So that’s just one more very good reason to add a Kamugisha trip across Uganda to your global birding plans.  There are hundred more including numerous endemics.  Look at these pictures also taken at Kazinga just last year.  Look at the variety:

The crowded pictures at the bottom were all taken within a short time. Spoonbill, various storks, gulls, terns, stilt, etc.  A tiny fraction of the birdlife variety you will find in Uganda.  So click here to check out our tour schedule for future birding trips led by “First Ever” Johnny Kamugisha.


September 13, 2011

Partnershipfor International Birding now has 80 trips scheduled for 2012 with a score more in the works.  Check out our website for the list.  We can take you to almost every birdable cranny of the planet.  And you’ll be in small groups, not with a busload.

AFRICA:  We now have trips to Gambia, South Africa, Namibia, Malawi, Ghana, Uganda. There are many birds you’ll never see if you don’t get to Africa.

This four-foot high, pedestrian pelican is the Shoebill.  He lives in papyrus swamps around Lake Victoria in Uganda.  Once we’d seen this guy at eye-level from our small canoe the other hundreds of birds, the numerous antelope species, the elephants, the warthogs digging up the lawn…those were all a bonus.  Shoebill is the single best reason to bird Uganda.  He won’t show up as a vagrant at Cape May.

ASIA: India, Phillipines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia.

In all our overseas trips we use only the best local guides.  We stay in local eco-lodges.  And we plan these trips with your lifelist in mind.  And we can get you to six continents and then get you to the birds you want to see.

This colorful character is the Masked Trogon female.  She liked hunting outside our breakfast hall at one Ecaudoran lodge.

LATIN AMERICA; Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, Argentina,
Guyana.  And our Ecuador trips can include a few days in the amazing world of Darwin’s Galapagos.

OCEANA: New Zealand and Australia, where the endemics are pandemic.  Don’t you want a couple Kiwis and a Kookabura on your life list?

We can put together custom trips for your small group of birding friends so you get the time to find your target birds.

NORTH AMERICA AND EUROPE.  Of course we also provide great trips in the U.S. From Lark Bunting to Hermit Warbler.  From Sprague’s Pipit to Cassin’s Auklet, we have the trip you need to fill out your lifelist.  North Dakota, Colorado, Pacific Northwest for winter specialties from the Arctic, Northern California, Tennessee in spring.  If you hanker after some of Europe’s goodies, we can plan your trip for Great-crested Grebe, Black and Red Kite, Hoopoe or Wallcreeper.  From Spain to the U.K.  Or from Turkey to France, we have your ideal bird trip to the Old World.  Below: a Common Shelduck at the Camargue in southern France.  Then a Pied Wagtail playing the ancient field at Stonehenge.


December 7, 2010

Topi male at Lake Mbuto National Park.  A large and elegant antelope.

Leo gives us a glance.

Young baboon checks out our van.













































The elephant doesn’t get big by NOT eating.  Noshing on a few bushes and a tree or two keeps the figure well-rounded.





















Stripes are very in on the veldt as these svelte beauties attest.


November 30, 2010

When birders get to travel in a distant land, they often take along a mental checklist of the regional birds they REALLLLY want to see.  In Latin America it may be a quetzal or a certain macaw, even an antpitta.  In Eastern Africa, it;s safe to bet nearly every first-time birder in that region has THE BIG ONE on the private checklist.   Well, here’s ours, seen in the Mabamba Swamp on the western shore of Lake Victoria, a short ferryboat ride and rough road away from the Entebbe International Airport.  Feast your eyes on this four-foot tall beastie:

Once we got to the edge of the Mabamba Swamp, we got into canoes.  They sit so low in the water you cannot see over the papyrus wilderness towering over your head on all sides of the narrow, twisting channels of open water.

We paddled out toward the edge of the swamp where it meets open water on the lake.  And there he stood, stolid and solid, next to a narrow channel.  He was watching for any fish foolish enough to pass within beak-scooping distant.  It was a hot and humid day.  Like every day on Lake Victoria in East Africa.  Even a patient Shoebill gets a little botred, as another day of fishing yawns before him.

After the exertion of a full yawn, it;s nice to close your eyes and catch a bird-nap.

Ever wonder whether those featherless bipeds in those silly floating logs might be scaring away lunch?  Guess they’re as little too big to be bite-size, even for me.

The Shoebill was once considered a kind of stork.  DNA evidence a closer tie to pelicans.  He does fly though much of his time is spent standing around, as we saw from close range.  This species is in its own taxonomic family.  They are fish-eaters found only in some papyrus swamps of sub-Saharan Africa.  Even our local guide had never seen a young Shoebill or a nest.  They raise their young in the densest inaccessible parts of papyrus swamps.  When their habitat is protected and the water relatively clean, the Shoebill is well-adapted and seems to be doing well.  Go see for yourself.

Making It Count In Uganda

November 29, 2010

Most of us American birders have never birded in sub-Saharan Africa.  Well, a whole new world of species, genuses, even families await you.

This is a thirty-inch long Great Blue Turaco.  One of the big guys in a small family of birds seen only south of the Sahara.

This is a Finfoot, gleaning bugs from foliage along the edge of Lake Mburo in south central Uganda.  The African Finfoot has a near cousin in southeast Asia and his Sungrebe cousin in Latin America.  That’s the whole family of Heliornithidae.

Rarity can by attractive in a birding target, but a little beauty can be equally pleasing.  When we got up to around 7000′ elevation we started seeing these Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters repeatedly.  Never  got to be a junk bird even when there was a pair in ever other tree along the road.

We saw nearly 400 species in our ten days in Uganda, and three dozen mammals.  There’ll be more pictures and details on places we birded in future blogs right here. To ponder your own trip to Uganda, click here.


June 29, 2010

Best of Birding and Wildlife in Uganda:

  • $3,490 per person for twelve days and twelve nights with a minimum of six participants with Johnnie Kamugisha and Harry Fuller (long-time guide for Golden Gate Audubon).
  • Single Supplement:  $850.
  • Price Adjustments:
    • Only $300 more with smaller group.
    • Savings with less expensive lodging available in several locations saving $200 to $400.
  • Extensions available from two to nine days ranging in price from $200 to $400 per day, depending upon participation.
  • Really good to book these locations early to get good value on lodging and good chance for Mountain Gorilla (if this is your desire).
  • Pricing details at or just call Charles at 1-888-203-7464, ext. 912.
  • Get the Shoebill onto your lifelist.
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Africa: Virtual, or Real

May 11, 2010

You can do some virtual Africa birding via the Internet, just click here.

Or you can come along on one of the many fine PIB trips: Uganda, South Africa, et al.  And see some of these birds for yourself.

Black Beeeaters above.  Shoebill below.  Pictures by PIB partner, John Drummond, in Uganda.

Uganda trips this year and next. South Africa trips.

Or Madagascar next year.

Uganda Could Be Your-ganda. You Bet!

March 26, 2010

This trip would be worthwhile just to see the Shoebill in Mabamba  Swamp.  After that it’s all gravy.  Here are the details of our PIB autumn trip to Uganda.

Not only does the Shoebill’s visage make an impression.  They stand four-five feet tall.  The wingspan, when they bother to open them for flight, can be over ten feet.  They can weigh more than fifteen pounds.  Though traditionally considered a stork relative, recent DNA evidence indicates they are closer to pelicans.  I say, let the beak speak.

One Shoebill is NOT going to appear as a vagrant at Cape May or Point Reyes.  So you gotta get out of your chair and go.

Of course, once you’ve seen the Shoebill, you could content yourself with over 350 other species you’re likely to see. I happen to be one of those birders who will go anywhere to see a crane.  So the Gray Cresated Cranes of Uganda are as magnetic to me as any mere five-foot mysterious swamp bird could ever be.

This picture of the Gray Crested Crane flock was taken by our super-guide, Johnnie Kamugisha. 

And the geography brings forth names to conjure: Kibale National Park, Semuliki Park, Budongo Forest.  To see the places and the birds, reserve your spot. Call: 1-888-203-7464.
Abd I am looking forward to going along as the PIB host.

–Harry Fuller