cruising up and down the Nile
Hands down, the highlights of our stay in Murchison were the two boat trips we took up and down the Nile. The first was an early morning excursion downstream to the papyrus-lined delta where the Victoria Nile empties out into Lake Albert. The second was a late-afternoon trip upstream to see the waterfall that gives the park its name.
At Murchison Falls, the wide and otherwise placid Nile squeezes through a narrow gorge before crashing down 141 feet (43 meters). It is possible to disembark near the falls to hike up to the top, and this had been our intention. However, with D still limping heavily from his sports injury and Munchkin running a fever for several days, we decided to skip the hike and enjoy the falls from the bottom up.
Among the 450 bird species that can be seen in Murchison is the elusive shoebill, which inhabits the freshwater swamps of central Africa and is considered vulnerable by the IUCN – just a step above endangered. It is said to prefer mixed vegetation alongside papyrus thickets, so we hoped to glimpse one on our trip down the delta.
Alas, lady luck was not with us. No shoebills, and none of the colorful turacos that call the Great Lakes home, a couple of plantain-eaters – the turacos’ less colorful cousins — being the sole exception. However, we did photograph close to 70 different bird species during our three-night stay in Murchison, about half of which were new to us.
Hobbled both physically and by a lack of equipment – the 2x teleconverter on which we normally rely for birding has gone missing in the shuffle of our various moves, limiting somewhat our range – D was pretty happy with the results.
Without venturing far, waking up early or going out late in search of nocturnal species, we still managed to photograph 15 percent of the park’s avian denizens – and that’s not counting the myriad birds that circled out of camera range overhead or serenaded us from the confines of their thickets, allowing a momentary glimpse of their plumage but presenting no opportunity to be photographed.
The boat trips also proved to be great for game viewing. Because we stayed exclusively on the roads on our brief safari inside the park, some of our animal sightings were at a great distance. Floating down the river, on the other hand, we got great views of elephants and giraffes, which came down to the delta to drink, and got as close as we dared to countless hippos and crocodiles.
The only challenge was keeping Munchkin both safe and entertained. Not content to sit still for several hours in a confined space, he bounded around the front of the motorboat, causing our hearts to leap every time the boat pitched a little.