Friday, November 23, 2012

The Ritchies' Farewell Tour: Stage 2, the Nile at Jinja, Lake Victoria and quite a lot of birds

Our Farewell Tour would certainly not be complete without a return to Kingfisher Safari Lodge, Jinja, scene of many happy visits on our own and with friends.

Kingfisher's setting, on the shores of Lake Victoria, is very beautiful, as are its gardens.

We renewed our acquaintance with the Pied Wagtails and introduced ourselves to a lovely Woodland Kingfisher, which sang away happily all afternoon perched on the very top of one of the bandas.

Tiny Red-chested Sunbirds flitted from branch to branch, and with a loud flapping and whirring of wings a huge Eastern Grey Plantain Eater landed on a tree nearby.

We wandered down to the water's edge to join the egrets.

Our friend Angela was relieved to see a somewhat more substantial vessel than the one above arrive to take us on our boat trip. Our guide clearly felt that additional bird-sightings were required, rather than the more straightforward trip to the source of the Nile which we had proposed. So, off to the fish farm we went, which is where all the best birds hang out, apparently. If the following photos are assigned to the wrong species, don't blame me. It is always disconcerting when the 'bird expert' grabs one's idiot's guide to bird spotting and thumbs his way inexpertly through the section on raptors when one is looking at a perfectly ordinary cormorant.

So, here goes... This is what we saw. First a pelican; no one could disagree about that. Rather fewer than we have seen before.

The most common water birds were here in large numbers: medium-sized black Long-tailed Cormorants, elegant Grey Herons with their long curved necks and black African Darters which flap their wings to keep cool. Here, the darter is sharing its perch on the drum with a little Pied Kingfisher.

Huge Marabou Storks lunged through the netting at the captive fish.

On land, flocks of egrets and Sacred Ibises gathered at the tops of the trees, the latter periodically swooping down to take part in the feast.

Also hiding in the trees along the banks were tiny exquisite Malachite Kingfishers.

However, it was time to make for the source of the Nile, where the great river flows out of Lake Victoria. We disregarded our boatman's insistence that he would require extra payment for this. He had seriously underestimated the two formidable females in his craft.

We approached the source by the island opposite, with its white-coated shrines to the spirit of the now non-existent Rippon Falls. A couple of centuries ago, the sacrifice could include scores, or even hundreds, of human beings. The coming of Christianity changed all that and traditional believers had to be satisfied with goats. With the flooding of the Falls, the goats became chickens, the gods clearly having lost much of their power. A couple of years ago, so we heard, a group of busybody born-again American Christians landed on the island, preached hellfire and damnation, no doubt, and persuaded most of the worshippers to abandon their beliefs (or, more likely, the practice of them).

The trees above the shrines were crowded with Black-headed Herons and White Storks and covered in guano.

Our friend Christine had sadly told us of being taken to the Rippon Falls by her father on Sunday afternoons. Now all that is left of them is is a slight ripple in the water. The hydro-electric dam at the Owen Falls downstream has completely overwhelmed the once-majestic waterfall.

The boatloads of tourists arrive at the island opposite the shrines, step out, have a look around and leave. Their behaviour appears to require some supervision, however.

Wherever we looked, fishermen of all ages were paddling canoes of all sizes or throwing out their nets, providing serious competition for the birds.

From the peaceful Source of the Nile gardens on the west side of the Nile, the islands look serene, the atmosphere broken only by the dreadful loud racket of tinned music on the eastern side. What a pity there is such brash commercialism on that side of the river, right next to the Gandhi Memorial, commemorating the casting of his ashes into the Nile.

The cows chewed quietly. What they were doing at the Speke Memorial, I have no idea. Someone putting the rich grass to good use, I expect. The birds perched on their backs got rich pickings too, I expect as they helpfully removed the insects irritating them.

At first sight, I mistook a flock of egrets perched on a nearby bush for magnolia flowers.

I like the memorial to Speke's 'discovery' of the source of the Nile. It is so easy to imagine him looking down towards Lake Victoria and his sudden excitement when he realised what he had found.

We brought the second stage of our Tour to an end by going into the centre of Jinja, for a last look at the distinctively Indian architecture, the buildings a sad mixture of newly renovated and irretrievably dilapidated.

Time to go. Back across the Nile we went, to Kingfisher again. A few minutes rest among the quiet but gaudy flowers.

Odd to think we'll probably never be back

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