Project Contact Zones update!
Sifiso and I began our 45-day journey across Eastern Africa on April 15th 2022. The trip formed part of the Contact Zones project funded by the Research and Innovation Foundation (RIF). A downpour greeted us as we landed in Uganda in the middle of the night. As soon as we obtained some supplies for the trip, we left Kampala mid-morning heading for our first field site, Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, in the east of the country.
While we concentrated on catching tinkerbirds, we were also able to engage with the locals by explaining the project, how we obtain blood and feather samples, as well as biometrics of captured birds and more generally the benefits that local communities can gain from avian diversity.
After eight nights in Pian Upe, our trip continued north to Kidepo Valley National Park. Surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, we discovered another contact zone between red and yellow-fronted tinkerbirds, but also managed to catch a stunning Red and Yellow Barbet, an Eastern African endemic species. As soon as we left Kidepo (we spent four days in the area), we headed for the north-western part of the country to seek out the continuation of the contact zone. We crossed the White Nile River north of Adjumani and worked in the remote areas around Otze forest, Moyo and Mount Kei, right at the border with South Sudan, which turned out to be occupied only by yellow-fronted tinkerbird.
From there, our trip South began: in just a few days, we reached Lake Mburo National Park after driving through Murchison Falls National Park, Kibale National Park (where we ended up surrounded by Chimpanzees) and Queen Elizabeth National Park, famous for its tree-climbing lions, and where we camped with the hippos.
Our trip continued in Tanzania, where we sought to locate the contact zone between the eastern African form of red-fronted tinkerbird (P. pusillus affinis) and the southern subspecies of yellow-fronted tinkerbird (P. chrysoconus extoni).
We descended the Kagera region through areas our team never explored on previous trips before, then turned east around Lake Victoria to reach the Serengeti conservation area and its endless landscapes.
Our search of the contact zone continued south until we finally found it in the areas surrounding Tabora, in central Tanzania, where we explored the area for future fieldwork once permits would be obtained. We then continued our trip south to Mbeya (the southernmost point of the trip) and then east towards Iringa, before making our way north again towards Uganda.
Overall, during the whole trip, we collected samples from 96 tinkerbirds and, of course, many other barbets! Not bad considering the huge distance travelled, the weather that prevented the activities from being carried out (especially in the first part of the trip), as well as several unforeseen events along the way.
27th June 2022