It starts in the early morning in the chaos of Kampala amidst the swarm of humanity, the woodsmoke, exhaust fumes and cacophony present in any bustling Third World centre. The safari vehicle eventually claws its way out of the rush hour congestion and is soon lumbering along red dirt roads in between rural settlements, banana plantations and livestock. The vehicle eventually grinds to a dusty halt near a small papyrus choked inlet on the shores of Lake Victoria.
The group clambers into long, narrow, motorised dugout canoes and are soon drifting through the reeds and water lilies. It is an aquatic wonderland to rival the Okavango and the Kafue. Sitatunga dash through the shallows and disappear behind sheer walls of papyrus while everywhere scores of Pied Kingfisher follow the boats in the hope that a morsel or two will be delivered in the disturbed water. Lesser Jacana race across the lily pads and scurry to get beyond reach of the moving craft and Spotted necked Otter cavort and porpoise through the wake behind.
The boats are on a mission in this watery paradise…this remote swampland elysium. They seek a bird unlike any other on the planet…a great stork-like bird with a bulbous and impossible bill designed by evolutionary eons for just two things…the acquiring and consuming of whole lungfish. Its name is Balaeniceps rex…the Whale headed Stork or more commonly…the Shoebill.
The outboards guide the dugouts around a reed encrusted peninsula and suddenly the occupants exhale in unison. On an enormous raft of floating vegetation stands a colossal grey bird with the disturbing, staring eyes of a pterodactyl and a gargantuan bill at odds with the rest of its body. Camera motors whir and shutters fire off in staccato unison as the moment is forever captured…that moment when the most elusive of natural wonders reveals itself and the sight of it is more powerful than the imagining could ever have been.