Queen Elizabeth National Park is situated in the south west of Uganda and is the country’s most visited national park. The park covers 1978 square kilometres and includes many diverse ecosystems including savanna, humid forests, open lakes and fertile wetlands making it an ideal habitat for big game. The park is also home to ten different primate species, including chimpanzees, and over 600 species of birds. Over the coming weeks I’ll be sharing the recordings I made at this location.
To fully explore the Queen Elizabeth National Park you would need to months. Sadly, my time there was limited to four days, but I loved every minute of it observing, and listening to, some of the wonderful local wildlife. We were based at the Buffalo Safari Resort, which is one of a few lodgings located within the park’s boundaries. On arrival we were briefed on the strict rules regarding walking around at night – anytime you wanted to go from the main hall where dinner was served to your bungalow, you would have to be accompanied by a guard. This is because there are no fences around the accommodation, so animals are free to walk through as and when they feel fit. The idea that a leopard, a hippo or a venomous snake might be crossing the path in front of your bungalow took quite some getting used to. But what an amazing experience! From the balcony of my bungalow I heard the most amazing soundscapes, quite literally in the heart of the national park.
Knowing that I would be spending three nights here, I had initially planned not to record straight away, instead to take some time to listen without headphones, rather with my own ears. I spent some time after dinner sat quietly on my balcony whilst listening to the african savanna at night. The insect and frog chorus immediately caught my attention, as well as the many bats that were flying through the balcony feasting on insects as they did so. With such an interesting soundscape developing it was just too tempting not to record so I went back into my bungalow, setup my recording gear (Sound Devices 722 + DPA 4060 stereo pair) and headed back out onto my balcony.
It was 1am as I sat and recorded the frogs, insects and bat fly-bys. I was really enjoying the way the sound was evolving when my ears suddenly pricked up. A distant dog-like vocalisation. A minute or so later, another distant call, this time a little clearer. Hyenas! This was the first time I’d heard a Hyena. It was disappointing they were so far – the calls are pretty low in the recording. But incredible to hear in such an amazing setting.
All the time I was recording, the bats continued to squeak as they hurriedly flew-by catching insects. It was a hypnotising, calming soundscape that I’ll never forget. Then, another unknown sound off in the distance. Sounding like a monster laughing deeply. A hippo! I honestly had no idea hippos sounded like that and it wasn’t until a little later in my trip, when I’d get the chance to record them in a much closer context, that I would have confirmation of what I had heard. To be honest, not being 100% sure of what I had heard added to the magic of the moment. It was pure discovery, I was hearing animal vocalisations for the first time and was desperate to hear more.
After staying outside for about an hour, I decided I should actually get some rest in order to be fit for the following day’s explorations. I thought to myself that seeing as I would be there for another two nights, I could easily come back and record again. What I didn’t count on was just how much the soundscape would change from one night to another. As we’ll hear in one of my future posts, the soundscape on the balcony of my bungalow at Buffalo Safari Resort would be radically different to what I experienced here on my first evening.
The photo in this post is courtesy of Bobby Bradley under a Creative Commons license.