Green-breasted Pitta - a sort of finder's report
Artiklen er tilføjet af JSH søndag 16. september 2012 kl. 23.40. Læst 2226 gange
At the end of June 2012, I was on a project visit to Uganda. DOF is administrating a project financed by Danida in and around the Echuya Forest, which is situated in the south-western corner of the country. After the project visit, DOF’s Financial Manager, Lars Engmark, and I continued to the Kibale Forest National Park. The park covers 800 km² of tropical forest and has a population of around 1200 chimpanzees. Our common goal was, of course, to see the apes, but all the same I had another item on the agenda, namely to try to find another of the forest’s celebrities: the Green-breasted Pitta.
We drove off from a nearby village at half past five in the morning and were in the middle of the forest an hour later. We were accompanied by the local nature guide Gerald and two Hungarian bird-watchers. They had been out the morning before and had only caught a glimpse of a pitta, so they wanted to give it a last chance. We moved through the dense forest in pitch darkness and at last reached a place where the pitta had been heard several times shortly before, which was very promising, as it was just at the beginning of their breeding season.
So there we stood and listened. And nothing much happened. Apart from the fact that it was a thrilling experience to hear the forest wake up while the light increased. First one bird, then several others and finally the accompaniment of the chimpanzees’ resounding calls through the forest. All well and good – but absolutely no pittas.
We said goodbye to the Hungarians who – rather crestfallen – left for new adventures in another national park. Now it was chimpanzee time and in fact we had only walked through the forest for a few minutes before we had contact with a group. They were sitting high up in the trees having breakfast, which consisted of fresh leaf shoots and figs. We caught sight of a real whopper, which our guide told us was the alpha male in a large family group of around 120 individuals of all ages. After a little while he clambered down from the foliage and made himself comfortable. It turned out that he had to urinate. And there was a special poetry in the sound of piss trickling down through the rain forest just next to where we were standing. A moment later he came right down to the forest floor and rambled resolutely up to a large tree which he began to bang on while he howled and screamed. Very impressive – but the message was not meant for us. It was just to tell the flock: “Now we’re moving on”.
Lars would have liked to have watched them longer, but now I had to play my director’s card: “We must move on as well. I want a pitta!”
Gerald knew of another place where there might be a pitta, and we walked for about half an hour before anything happened. Suddenly he heard a noise. And after trying hard, Lars and I could hear it too: Prrrt! It didn’t sound like a bird at all, but more like an oversized dragonfly whirring its wings. The sound was still a long way off. We crept slowly nearer, but it wasn’t easy. Sometimes there were several minutes between each sound and it was difficult to hear where it came from. But finally we got a bite. We crept up to close range and at last our guide spotted the creature. It was sitting 5-6 metres high up in a tree. There was just one problem: I couldn’t for the life of me catch sight of it. The rain forest was simply so compact that I couldn’t pick out the fixed points that our guide was giving me. My pulse was beating faster and faster, and time was passing while we kept on hearing this Prrrt. But little did it help. And suddenly it was too late. I caught a lightening glimpse of the bird as it flew up and disappeared noiselessly into the tangle of undergrowth.
A big disappointment - and now we were pressed for time, for Lars and I had to drive hundreds of kilometres to get to the airport and our night flight back to Europe. So I said: “That was really disappointing, but we had better get back”. But Gerald thought we should give it one more last chance.
No sooner said than done. The hunt started up again and I have no idea how Gerald knew where we should search. But on we went, leaving the beaten track, and suddenly the noise was there again. We crept closer and this time we were lucky. 10 metres away sat an almost indescribable beauty and I caught sight of it by myself. It was sitting 4 metres up in a liana formed like a swing. Lovely markings on its head in white, black and cream, green on its breast and red on its belly. And suddenly there was that noise again: Prrt – and the bird jumped 20cm up in the air and landed again. This time with its back to us, so we could see the brilliant blue rump and lovely blue patches in its black wings. The scene kept repeating itself. It danced into the air at regular intervals while its wings produced this strange sound. And I realized that I was looking at something quite unique: a male performing a courtship dance.
During these minutes I was on the verge of becoming euphoric. And of course the bird disappeared again noiselessly. I felt like giving Gerald a hug, but made do with giving him a pat on the shoulder: Well done!
We turned around and went back, found our car, raced to Kampala and luckily got our flight. That was the end of our adventure. But let me quote the Handbook of the Birds of the World on Green-breasted Pitta: “Very shy species, rarely seen. Most reports concern individuals trapped by local people”. Wow, what an experience it was! Even though I have to admit that it was not Lars and I who found the pitta, but our local guide.
There is, incidentally, an antecedent to this story, which I heard from Harriet Kemigisha (email@example.com) who was our guide on our trip round Uganda. In 2005, Harriet – who was born and grew up in Kibale – had just finished her training as a nature guide and had been employed to take tourists out to the forest’s chimpanzees. On her first trip, they got lost in the forest. As Harriet tried to find her way back again, she suddenly saw a bird jump up from the forest floor and fly into the forest. The party moved further on, and the same thing happened again. The bird jumped up from the forest floor and disappeared. But she had to ensure that her guests got safely back again, and she managed to do so with the help of walkie-talkies and locating where the sound of the chimpanzees was coming from.
Of course she had to give a long explanation when she got back to camp, but also managed to add that she had seen this bird, which she believed was an African Pitta. But that couldn’t be the case, said the others, as it was the wrong time of year.
As soon as she had an opportunity, she went off searching, and of course she was lucky. And she found out that the bird was in fact a Green-breasted Pitta. Moreover, she realized that she was the first to have seen the bird in Uganda in a lifetime and not only that - it had never been seen in Kibale. Now it is estimated that there are around 20 breeding pairs in the Kibale Forest. But be warned: you’ll never find it without expert assistance!
This experience was one of the reasons why she started up as a bird guide in 2006. Today she is the most sought-after bird guide in Uganda and there are of course many of her customers who want to see “her” Green-breasted Pitta.
Translation: Joy Klein
Photo: Achilles Byaruhanga, CEO, Nature Uganda
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