Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Vulture Count around Kampala

By Charlotte Beauvoisin

Counting vultures in and around Kampala’s abattoirs is one of the more unusual days out I have had courtesy of NatureUganda. It is also one of my favourite - if you can bear the smell!

This year I was delighted to take my friend Hope. I enjoyed listening to her Rukiga village names for the birds that we spotted. Our team opted for route three led by tour guide Ronald Sekiziyivu.

Three groups surveyed Kampala’s abattoirs, fish factories and the Kampala city council dumping site in Kitezi. Visits to these glamorous hangouts were challenging! Nonetheless, between us, we recorded 127 Hooded Vultures, 2,456 Marabou Storks, 295 Pied Crows, 108 Black Kites, and 2 Palm-nut Vultures. The numbers were down on previous years; the heavy rain certainly did not help.
We could hear the sound of Pied Crow behind us as we counted the Marabou among Makerere University’s buildings and on trees. We admired the pretty Speckled Pigeons scavenging amongst the rubbish along the road inside the University. 

There was an unconfirmed sighting of a Palm Nut Vulture near the golf course. We all craned our necks trying to see it; we even pulled over and all jumped out of the matatu (commuter taxi), but alas, we did not spot it again.
Vulture Count at the Kampala Abattoir
 Next stop: meat-packers along Old Port Bell Road. A Hooded Vulture flew overhead as we approached. We spotted more perched in the Palm Trees and streetlights along the main road; I could not wait to jump out the matatu and start counting them.

Even on the pavement opposite meat-packers, we watched a Black Kite and a Pied Crow fighting over a scrap of meat that they must have pulled off a carcass a few hundred metres away.
Ronald wanted to be thorough, so we did not start counting until we had driven past the abattoir and parked next to the railway line.

“You are free to see other birds,” announced Ronald, as he pointed out a Cisticola and a Grey-backed Fiscal in the bushes next to it.

Team of birders taking part in the Vulture Count at the Kampala Abattoir

By this time it was raining. The committed birders did not give up - even with the rain coming down on us and the smell of carcasses from the abattoir.
Vultures, vultures everywhere! It was quite difficult to exactly count their number. We looked up at the electricity pylon and counted to 10, 11 and 12. We had to check our figures more than once, to agree on the number. Getting an accurate figure of the Marabou was surprisingly difficult. Even though they are so big and easy to spot, some would fly off just as thought you had the right total. (Did I count those already?)

Next September, keep the first Saturday free and join NatureUganda on this fascinating day out and help contribute to the research and protection of these important species. More importantly, tell your friends about the threat to vultures’ survival.

The International Vulture Awareness Day aims to educate the general public on this ecologically vital group of birds. Vultures are the most crucial avian scavengers in the world. Eating carcasses of dead animals helps maintain the health of our environment, so we all depend on them. Tragically, many vultures are poisoned, not always intentionally, but by farmers that lay poison down for other animals. The vultures’ position at the apex of the food chain - eating other animal carcasses - makes them acutely vulnerable to poisoning.

NatureUganda’s Vulture monitoring programmes include the road raptor counts, the carcass counts conducted in four national Parks (Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls and Kidepo Valley) and the annual Kampala Vulture Counts.

For more on birding and conservation stories, visit Diary of a Muzungu | Uganda travel blog. You might want to read Charlotte's previous Vulture Count at Kampala's abattoirs in a Disgusting Day Out. I am happy to write the occasional story for NU

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