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The Kingfisher and me

Dec 8 • 6212 views • 6 Comments on The Kingfisher and me Adventure, Africa, birds, birdwatching, Conservation, dogs, East Africa, Kampala, Travel, Uganda, wildlife

I love this time of day, walking with the dogs before the sun goes down. There’s something in the air tonight.

A pair of African Grey parrots fly overhead, squawking all the way to their roost in the big tree behind us. The Ibis congregate on the highest roof, cackling as I approach with De Boys – Baldrick and Percy – who bounce through the long (tick-infested!) grass, delighted to be free from the compound.

There’s a disgusting smell – trust the dogs to find the rotting corpse of a dog, only recognisable by its canines. Looks like someone’s dumped it here, as it’s half concealed (I bet someone had a nasty shock when they opened that sack!)

As we walk across the football pitch someone shouts out “Muzungu! Can we eat your dog for our dinner?”

It’s OK, he’s just fooling around in front of his mates. I grin back at them.

As we turn the corner back to the house, a Woodland Kingfisher darts through the air, picking insects. How relieved am I to see him!*


Who needs an alarm clock in Africa? My love-hate relationship with the Woodland Kingfisher was put to the test recently

What appear to be flying ants and dragonflies whirl around in the evening’s pink sky. A Sooty Falcon flies overhead. A second one follows. I turn around 360 degrees, necked craned, and count seven of them!

(According to Stevenson & Fanshawe’s Birds of East Africa, this group of Sooty Falcons are migrating on their passage to South Africa for winter. They’re often associated with storm fronts and termite emergences. Another tick on my bird list!)

Sooty Falcons pass over Uganda, passing south for the winter

Sooty Falcons pass over Uganda, passing south for the winter. Photo courtesy of

After this morning’s heavy rains – across Kampala, everyone was stuck indoors and hours late for work – the ground has been heating up all day. The baked murram is now steaming and, from barely visible slits in the dirt track, scores of ants bubble up from the ground beneath my feet.

The long lacy winged ants quickly flutter into action and spiral skyward like sycamore seeds. This unexpected spectacle makes me catch my breath. As dusk settles, they pour out of the earth, upwards and away, a non-stop chain of swirling activity.

Two Woodland Kingfishers rest on their electric perch above the blossoming Bougainvillea. (Simpson wants me to hack the bush back – now it’s looking beautiful!)

After a a few minutes the earth is still and the last ants float skywards to join the huge dragonflies, buzzing around above us. The sound of insects fills my ears as we make our way back home. Is this what it’s like to have tinnitus?

Back in the compound, as I tell what I’ve witnessed, Simpson asks “so did you eat them?” We talk about the enswa, the White Termites that the Muganda find so delicious! Brenda’s eyes light up when I tell her the termites were right outside our house. Oh me, oh my, next time we’re going out there with a blanket to cover the hole and we’ll beat the ground until we fill it!

The muzungu's first taste of grasshoppers (nsenene)

Let’s hope enswa taste better than the muzungu’s first taste of grasshoppers (nsenene)

*Regular Diary of a Muzungu readers may remember my love-hate relationship with the Kingfisher that has been waking me up at 5.30 am PRECISELY every day for almost 4 years.

I frequently curse him but last week I thought I’d lost him – and I was worried.

With the rains, the occasional giant cockroach has been appearing in the house in the middle of the night. I’m not quite the coward I once was and occasionally I manage to deal with them on my own. (Makes me feel very grown up!)

Simpson deals with a cockroach

Our friendship was sealed when I discovered my housemate Simpson’s not afraid of cockroaches! My hero!

One particular night I’d zapped one with Doom. It’s a poisonous spray and I only use it as a last resort: aim Doom at insect, close eyes and spray. I’m sure they’ve got more than eight legs – I can’t bear to look at them. They wriggle and squirm – even the next morning the damn thing’s legs will still be kicking. Answer: get the broom and sweep it out of the house right away.

The next morning I’m sitting at my desk enjoying the view as the Kingfisher lands on the washing line just a few feet from my window.

It’s such a beautiful bird. But what’s that in its big red beak? An enormous cockroach! God it looks disgusting. And I panic, realising it’s probably the poisoned cockroach I’ve swept out the back door a few hours earlier…

I watch the Kingfisher struggling to swallow the big leggy insect – will it too succumb to Doom … ?

There then followed two days of silent mornings: “Please come back and wake me up every morning, please don’t let me have poisoned you” I plead.

And so Mr Kingfisher is back! I can’t be anything but happy and relieved now when I see and hear him (even at 5.30 am!)

“Don’t console yourself Charlotte – it’s a different bird that’s assumed his territory,” Julia chides me.

So what interesting wildlife have you seen during the rainy season?

And have you eaten enswa? Should I?

If you like birds, you might enjoy some of the Muzungu’s Uganda birding stories.

And if like dogs, you might enjoy more of my morning / evening dog walks around Kampala.

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6 Responses to The Kingfisher and me

  1. lizziema says:

    You’ve painted a lovely picture with words, I am almost there but it’s not quite warm enough here to imagine it – although I am sitting next to an electric fire.

    Secondly, and this is in line with Mary and not taking liberties with barracuda – are you very careful about tics? One could ruin the rest of your life.

    That face you pulled reminds me of around the time of your 21st and THAT film of you peering over my shoulder. Are you going to try termites? Pure protein I should think. Pretend you are eating shrimps and not maggots. As for the kingfisher, perhaps he has been away for two days with D and V and is now better! We never could kill large cockroaches with spray, a ten pound mallet is what you need or a nuclear explosion which is when roaches take over the earth.

    • the muzungu says:

      re ticks, it’s the dogs that go running through the long grass, not me! I usually go walking in long trousers tho.

      Not sure whether I will try eating termites. You eat them when they’re still alive, and I can’t bear the thought of all those little legs being still alive as I swallow them! As for the Kingfisher, I think he probably had a running stomach! That or the cockroach got stuck in his throat for 2 days, preventing him from singing! Poor little bugger. My friend Cheryl showed me the best way of dealing with cockroaches: just get a broom and sweep them out the house. You never get rid at all of them anyway. That said, we’re going to get fumigated again; it’s been almost a year…

  2. […] Talking of Simpson, this afternoon’s story is just too funny not to relate but if you feel anything like I do about roaches, skip this bit…. […]

  3. […] to the book, “the Striped Kingfisher is a small and rather drab kingfisher” – but I spotted him and no-one else did – so to me he was […]

  4. […] a.m. and it’s still pitch black outside. It’s a heaving sweaty mess; we need rain. The Woodland Kingfisher’s piercing call fills the compound and I hear the unmistakeable cawing and crowing of the Hadada […]

  5. […] argued about the merits – or not! – of the Woodland Kingfisher’s call. A beautiful bird it may be but its call, from the avocado tree overlooking my bedroom, is shrill and […]

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