Jacobs: Keep your head on a swivel
spotlight alert top story
Letters to America

Jacobs: Keep your head on a swivel


As our boat glided by, a large pod of hippopotamuses raised their heads. They were parked in the shallows along the edge of the Nile River at Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda.

While the boat passed by, we listened to their grunts. It stirred images in my mind; to me, it sounded like they were laughing at us.

Hippopotamuses are among the most dangerous animals in the world and can be highly aggressive and unpredictable. This is no laughing matter and a fact that I am always keenly aware of whenever I’m around them.

During the day, hippopotamuses rest in the water to escape the rays of the hot sun. In the evening, they emerge from the river to graze grass.

In our camp, later that night, a hippopotamus the camp staff called Gloria visited us. This was a huge reminder that we were staying in a National Park filled with wild animals.

“Stay away from Gloria, she won’t harm you if you keep your distance,” said the staff at the Red Chili Rest Camp.

I was more than happy to give her the space she wanted.

Our next adventure on the Nile River was to go in search of the Shoebill stork.

The geological formations of the rift valley create a delta on the Nile as it reaches Lake Albert, the largest rift valley lake in east Africa. This dynamic creates habitat heaven for the Shoebill stork and is one of the best places to see the bird species anywhere in the wild.

“People haven’t seen a Shoebill for a couple of months,” said our guide from Wild Frontiers, “We will be lucky to see one.”

The Sigma Phi Epsilon (Sig Eps) Fraternity from the University of Nebraska were the only passengers on the boat, a luxury and freedom to go wherever we wanted.

“This is the first time I’ve ever really set out on an adventure just to see a bird,” said Connor Clanton.

“This is no ordinary bird, Clanton,” I replied. “It’s a Shoebill stork, and we just happen to be in one of the coolest places in the world to see them!”

With a roof-covered boat and a cool breeze, it was an easy adventure to have.

Our boat followed the current and along the edge of islands of papyrus plants. Papyrus has a very long history of use by humans, notably by the Ancient Egyptians. It is the source of papyrus paper, one of the first types of paper ever made.

As we turned a corner along the edge of the island, we encountered a small herd of elephants. They were surprised to see us just as much as we were to see them.

They lifted their large heads, displayed a defensive body language, and blew a trumpet sound from their trunk. It was clear we were unwelcomed breakfast guests.

Given we were 30 yards away from these large majestic creatures, we didn’t argue the point.

The boat weaved through the delta of papyrus islands as our eyes searched the shores and openings for birds.

“Hey look, it’s a Shoebill stork,” I whispered loudly to the students.

“I saw him fly across the sky and thought it might be around this location,” replied our guide.

A Shoebill stork is an interesting character to observe. It stands at almost 5 feet tall and has a wingspan of approximately 8 feet.

The first thing I thought to myself: “It’s a tiny dinosaur.”

The large bill has a hook on the tip of the bill, an adaptation to help it catch fish.

“Now that’s a cool bird,” said Clanton, who now understood why we were on an adventure to see a bird.

When you looked at the face of the Shoebill through field glasses, you saw a face that only a mother could love. Its eyebrows bent downward, which gave the appearance the bird was always mad. I imagined this is what Angry Birds might look like in real life.

For me, I was far from angry; my mouth was too busy smiling.

Dean Jacobs of Fremont is a world traveler.


Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News