Monday, May 28, 2012

Observers and observed at Lake Mburo National Park

There was no chance of us merging quietly into the wooded landscape as we bumped along the rutted murram roads that crisscross Lake Mburo National Park. We were spotted as soon as we arrived.

The zebra were totally unconcerned. They observed us casually and then went back to doing whatever it is that zebra do. We were no threat to them.

Some of the park's inhabitants, like this topi, stood their ground. The fastest antelope in the park, they knew they could easily outrun us if need be.

The warthogs were far too busy eating...

... and the waterbuck were just curious...

The bushbuck, perched on termite mounds, could see us from miles away. They were well warned of our arrival.

They count you in and they count you out.

Only the impala saw us as a threat.

Hitherto grazing peaceably, the harem quickly turned tail and ran, their lord and master grabbing a few last mouthfuls before following suit.

The Bradt Guide calls Lake Mburo National Park 'an underrated gem'. And so it is. Why underrated? Probably because, on the whole, tourists coming for brief visits to Uganda want to see elephants, lions, chimps and gorillas, preferably all in one place and all at one time.

Well, you won't find any of the big mammals in Lake Mburo, though there are supposed to be a couple of rather elusive lions around. On the other hand, you can spend hour after fascinating hour observing the family relationships, unpredictable interactions and nasty little squabbles among a variety of photogenic mid-sized mammals.

Leopards, jackals and hyenas tend to come out at night and spotting the 350 varieties of birds takes a bit of effort. This time we were here to unwind, however, so what we can show you is what we managed to observe from the immediate surroundings of Mahingo Lodge.

Mahingo consists of eight 'tents' on an outcrop of rock with superb viewing of a waterhole and saltlick below. Solar-powered, with all water supplied through a water collection system, Mahingo grows its own salads and vegetables with which to cook its delicious meals. This is the sort of camping at which Stuart and I are now expert. Below you can see Stuart partaking of his morning coffee on the 'balcony' of our tent.

You can actually watch the animals from your tent, if you are particularly lazy. Other good places from which to observe them are the bar, restaurant and swimming pool. This is the sort of animal tracking at which we are particularly good. If you're feeling a little more energetic, you can get a wonderful view of social interactions within the animal kingdom from Mahingo's hide, down at the level of the waterhole itself, from which some of these photos have been taken. You can just make the waterhole out to the left of this photo, below the threatening rainstorm.

Over two days, we watched the animals come and go, the groups constantly changing - here you can see impala, with two burrowing warthogs.

My first big excitement was seeing a huge male eland. Last time we were here we saw just one or two and failed to photograph any. This time we were far luckier. Eland are the largest of all antelopes and Lake Mburo is the only place in Uganda where you can see them. This mature male was particularly impressive, in colouring almost charcoal.

Eland are very handsome creatures, with three distinctive white bands round their chests, long straight antlers and long straight heads.

There must have been a score or more of them in one combination or another gathering round the waterhole in the morning, before it became too hot.

The herd wandered around the muddy water, bending to drink, or to lick at the minerals in the soil.

Zebra and warthogs mixed happily with eland. However, other antelopes kept their distance. Perhaps eland are just too large for impala. We were delighted to see this new baby eland with its mother, apparently, so we were told, on its first outing.

The buffalo had taken up residence early in the morning, though they soon moved off.

Other animals arrived during the afternoon. The solitary bushbuck, like this antlered male, were recognisable from the spattering of white on their flanks.

Female bushbuck are lighter in colour, but still with the paint splashes.

Although the waterhole looked perfectly ordered and safe to us, the bushbuck wasn't taking any chances. Up on the termite mound he went and stood for ages, looking out for predators. The observer observed.

The warthogs moved among the various animals quite unconcerned, these two taking time off to measure up to each other.

There is something quite satisfying about getting up to one's belly in mud.

The zebra stood around, what for we don't know.

Another proud mother arrived, baby in tow.

However, not all the animals were down by the waterhole. Vervet monkeys gambolled around the swimming pool, perched on the roofs and peered out of the vegetation. They were entranced by their reflections in the water.

Male monkeys displayed their astonishing blue and red genitals with no embarrassment whatsoever.

What we didn't expect to see was a snake, not a poisonous one, but still quite exciting, especially as it slithered around the seating area. The harmless speckled green snake looks unnervingly like a green mamba.

One delight which Mahingo offers is a family of bush babies. As these only come out after dark, you need to watch them using an infra-red light.

So, there is plenty to do at Mahingo Lodge, whether you are watching or being watched. And the action certainly doesn't stop at sunset.

You may also be interested in the following post:

Gathering at the watering hole

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