Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
I spent five days in the International Hospital Kampala (IHK) in Uganda having been evacuated there from my place of work in the Central African Republic with Malaria. The idea for this report was largely borne out of boredom whilst waiting for repatriation to be organised by my medical insurers. It is probably completely useless unless you end up in the same hospital but was designed to be irreverent as it is irrelevant. Hope it brings the odd smile.
Should not be a problem. If you are sick enough to be admitted then an ambulance (road or air) will probably take you there and the driver/pilot will probably know the way. Getting out may be a touch harder but your medical insurers will (eventually) arrange something.
Accommodation and food
The accommodation was largely of a good standard in a private room. The food was not, imagine NHS hospital food and then apply an African factor…
A bonus, the whole thing was absolutely free. Unless you count the potential long-term effects of repeated bouts of Malaria as a cost.
References and equipment
A telescope would be a definite advantage but as you may be semi-comatose when preparing for this trip not necessarily easy to bring with you. Fortunately I was able to convince someone to pack Birds of Africa south of the Sahara by Sinclair and Ryan as a field guide and Where to Watch Birds in Uganda by Rossouw and Sacchi proved useful in finding out what to expect and also provided a frustrating distraction as to what else this country has to offer.
03/06/07 I collapsed around 3am and apparently the decision to evacuate me was made shortly afterwards. I was diagnosed with malaria but with some weak vital signs the paramedic was taking no chances. After some wrangling over the eventual destination I was eventually flown by helicopter from our field camp to the capital of the CAR, Bangui. A private (but scheduled) plane was waiting on the tarmac with engines running and customs formalities over the 4 hour flight to Kampala commenced. I have only hazy recollections of all this, doped up on valium amongst others. I think we arrived in Kampala about 8pm local time and I was admitted to ICU. Perhaps unsurprisingly no birds were noted at all during the day.
04/06/07 Following an improvement in my condition I was shipped off to a private room in the morning having ironically received multiple mosquito bites whilst in ICU. The last Quinine drip was administered during the afternoon but I was still too weak to get up and do any ‘birding’.
05/06/07 The morning started slowly but eventually a glance out the window revealed the presence of a long tailed glossy starling species which was easily identified as Ruppell’s Starling. Encouraged by scoring a lifer from my hospital room window I ventured forth onto the tiny balcony to survey the surroundings. The front of the hospital looked out across a sparsely populated valley with a small drainage, probably man-made. Nearer environs could be classed very much as suburbia and further in the distance was an obvious industrial district. Northern Grey-headed Sparrows were calling from hidden gardens and ubiquitous African city species such as Pied Crow, Cattle Egret, Yellow-billed Kite, Dark-capped Bulbul and Feral Pigeon were all immediately apparent. In the distance to the northwest (I think it was this direction) a concentrated kettle of Yellow-billed Kites had formed and prolonged squinting revealed the presence of several Hooded Vultures and Marabou Storks. Turning my attention to a nearby garden with flowering trees several African Thrushes were obvious but a singing sunbird proved harder to pin down. Eventually it revealed itself to be a Variable Sunbird – a couple of pairs were present in the area.
Later in the afternoon a few Hadada Ibis were moving around over the city and an African Hobby zipped through. Rossouw and Sacchi list Kampala as probably the easiest place in Uganda to see this species. In the fading light a Shikra flew in and perched on the Air Ambulance hangar.
06/06/07 Although technically there was no medical reason for me to remain in hospital any longer the vagaries of health insurance companies meant I was effectively incarcerated until they decided what to do with me; a process that was becoming increasingly apparent to be as effective and successful as the male Shikra’s attempts to bring down one of the now numerous Ruppell’s Starlings.
I awoke (or rather was awoken) just before dawn, dutifully swallowed my Quinine tablets and looked out of the window to be greeted by low cloud and rain scuppering my plans to walk the limited hotel grounds looking for birds. I didn’t think it would do for a convalescent (albeit a fairly healthy one) to get wet and catch a chill. However the rain abated mid-morning and I wandered out on to the upper-storey walkway for a better view. Bird activity was good with much of the same as yesterday. The Shikra was still chasing the Starlings who seemed in more danger from their own kin during their frequent and violent squabbles.
A large non-Pied Crow silhouette in a nearby tree revealed itself rather surprisingly to be an Eastern Grey Plantain-eater. This soon became a pair and were obviously resident in the area being present all day. Whilst watching these a flash of white from a wing in the distance was attached to something stood in the wetland which with more squinting at the limit of binocular range proved to be a Grey Crowned Crane – and the eight blobs next to it eventually shuffle about to complete a group of nine. A good start to the day with two more lifers!
A pair of Palm-nut Vultures were perched in a dead tree near the Cranes and as the day gradually warmed up soaring birds took to the air, today including a few African Open-billed Storks. A pair of African Harrier-Hawks (see right, photo from the CAR) were patrolling the valley below at regular intervals. Closer to a large female sunbird was tentatively identified as Scarlet-chested Sunbird and effectively confirmed later in the day when a male of the species flew through the grounds. As activity lulled I turned my attention to pigeons and noted a pair of Speckled Pigeons on the hospital roof and with persistence both Laughing and Cape Turtle (Ring-necked) Dove pairs were picked out in flight.
I spent little time in the heat of the day birding but a brief foray outside was rewarded with a flyby Eastern Black-headed Oriole. By late afternoon I was stationed to watch birds coming into roost in the valley below. A large tree was a regular roosting (and breeding) site for hundreds of Herons – mainly Black-headed Heron and Intermediate and Little Egrets with a few Cattle Egrets. Dozens of Hadada Ibis were utilising flat warehouse roofs and the Palm-nut Vultures returned to their favourite tree. A few Lesser Striped Swallow and a single African Palm Swift were hawking out over the valley. An immature African Harrier-Hawk perched up on a nearby roof and the Shikra continued his vain and fruitless Starling pursuit. With not much new to look at I gazed wistfully at the distant shores of Lake Victoria – so close and yet so far - and was just about to call it quits when three medium-sized birds with a peculiar stiff-winged action flew over. Initially confused I was able to get the bins on them quickly and the pale grey rump combined with bright red tail left only one option – Grey Parrot – a bird I had always wanted to see in the wild. Of course there is a reasonable chance they might have been feral birds but I deserved them and I am unscrupulously ticking them. (The bird pictured to the right is ‘Werner’ – he is a miserable bastard, possibly as wild as the ones in Kampala and one a pair who are camp pets where I work).
Thus I finished the day elated, or as elated as an incarcerated convalescent can feel. I popped my head out a few times after dark to listen for night birds but with no success returned to bed plotting escape tactics.
07/06/07 Buoyed by the (relative) success of yesterday evenings birding I was out early to discover that low mist and the rising sun coming up in exactly the choice viewing direction combined to produce singularly awful light. The two Eastern Grey Plantain-eaters briefly became three but that was the height of excitement. Most of the rest of the morning was spent drafting this report.
Today was supposed to be my day of escape but more red tape, this time from the airline carrier due to take me back to the UK meant that I would have to wait another day. Rather cruel as this was conveyed only after I had packed my bag.
Thus I had another evening in which to survey the bedtime routines of the local avifauna. Many large birds were soaring late into the evening and a small falcon joining them eventually came close enough to be identified as a Grey Kestrel (my fifth and final lifer). Down in the valley a distant perched raptor eventually flew revealing the distinct white inner primaries of Long-crested Eagle, in fact there were three in total. Three Village Weavers flew through the hospital grounds and amidst the throng of Herons and Egrets coming to roost a group of seven individuals looked like something different. They passed close enough to be identified as Sacred Ibis. Next shrill screeching put me on alert and I was just in time to see a pair of Brown (Meyer’s Parrot) hurtle through close past. The Shikra was still gamely failing and down in the valley and African Goshawk was presumably involved in similar activities. Right on cue to Grey Parrots flew over on their way to roost and that just about wrapped up the evenings birding. The African Goshawk had taken my hospital list to 9 species. I doubt there are too many hospitals in the UK where one can record 9 species of raptor in three days.
08/06/07 An early morning inspection revealed that once again bad light would stop play but this did coincide with a single Grey Parrot flying over to its feeding grounds. Casual observations during the morning added a male Olive-bellied Sunbird whilst African Hobby was again noted. In the afternoon I finally received confirmation of my flight back to the UK.
The Grey Kestrel was seen mobbing African Harrier-Hawks and late in the afternoon a Green Wood-Hoopoe flew through the grounds. I made the journey to the airport as dusk fell and driving through Kampala there was just enough light to discern that Eastern Grey Plantain-eaters were a common Kampala bird. The only observation of interest was a large fruit bat presumably a Rousette’s Bat.
The plane left just before midnight and I arrived back in the UK the following morning via Brussels, just in time to coincide with the disappearance of the White-tailed Plover, although as I write this it has just been re-found…
Black-headed Heron Ardea melanocephala
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus
Hadada Ibis Bostrychia hagedash
Marabou Stork Leptoptilos crumeniferus
African Open-billed Stork Anastomus lamelligerus
Yellow-billed Kite Milvus aegyptius
Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis
Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus
African Harrier-Hawk Polyboroides typus
African Goshawk Accipiter tachiro
Shikra Accipiter badius
Long-crested Eagle Lophaetus occipitalis
Grey Kestrel Falco ardosiaceus
African Hobby Falco cuvierii
Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum
Feral Pigeon Columba domesticus
Speckled Pigeon Columba guinea
Cape Turtle Dove Streptopelia capicola
Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis
Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus
Meyer’s Parrot Poicephalus meyeri
Eastern Grey Plantain-eater Crinifer zonerus
African Palm Swift Cypsiurus parvus
Green Wood-Hoopoe Phoeniculus purpureus
Lesser Striped Swallow Hirundo abyssinica
Eastern Black-headed Oriole Oriolus larvatus
Pied Crow Corvus albus
Dark-capped Bulbul Pycnonotus tricolour
African Thrush Turdus pelios
Ruppell’s Starling Laprotornis purpuropterus
Scarlet-chested Sunbird Chalcomitra senegalensis
Variable Sunbird Cinnyris venustus
Olive-bellied Sunbird Cinnyris chloropygius
Village Weaver Ploceus cucullatus
Northern Grey-headed Sparrow Passer griseus