Flocks of migratory yellow-billed kites and black-winged pratincoles circled on thermals above, exploiting the rich bounty of flying termites, with the afternoon rounded off with a fine sighting of a leopard lounging in the upper limbs of a thorn tree. As if this was not enough, our nocturnal spotlighting turned up not one but two more leopards, along with some dapper white-tailed mongooses.
Queen Elizabeth National Park, with its game-rich, euphorbia thicket savanna and extensive wetlands was our next site, and Mweya Lodge proved a perfect base for exploration. As at Murchison, the grasslands had benefited from good summer rains and game drives into the surrounding areas produced Uganda kob actively lekking, and healthy numbers of African buffalos. A morning drive took us up into the foothills of the Rwenzoris, with their emerald crater lakes and a panoramic view across the Albertine Rift but, again, it was a cruise on the water that stole the show. The Kazinga Channel, which connects Lake George to Lake Edward, is well-known for its abundance of wildlife but our late afternoon excursion was nothing short of spectacular. Beginning with herds of lazy-looking buffalos wallowing in the shallows, we passed absurdly close to pods of hippos, many with tiny babies in attendance. The birds were not to be outdone by the mammals, however, with large flocks of African skimmers and dapper, breeding plumaged white-winged terns roosting along the shore, and a veritable plethora of storks, herons, ibises, and spoonbills feeding along the marshy fringes. One particular highlight was the sight of a male African jacana crouching to allow his brood of long-toed youngsters to climb under his wings, before he scuttled off into cover. Passing a small fishing village near the entrance to Lake Edward, we came upon a photogenic roost of hundreds of cormorants, pelicans, and storks, which seemed the perfect end to a perfect cruise on the channel. But as we returned towards the lodge, we realized that the Kazinga had a couple more tricks up its sleeve: the first, a small herd of elephants drinking from the channel, and the second, a fine male leopard perched on a high bank, surveying the proceedings with an aristocratic air. Another perfect end to another perfect day in “the Pearl of Africa.”
Continuing south the next day towards Bwindi, we were forced on a long and bumpy “detour” by road works, delaying our arrival at Ishasha, the southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. A fine herd of topis, some bark-chewing elephants, and a handsome pair of lappet-faced vultures proved a good start to our exploration, but we were after the area’s most famous wildlife spectacle: a lion in a tree. Moving from one favored wild fig tree to another, we were finally rewarded with a magnificent lioness, her very pregnant-looking, tawny body draped languorously in the upper branches of a lone fig tree.