Why we visited Uganda
Uganda was decided upon as our birding destination due to a number of factors. One of these was the shear wealth of bird life that this country had to offer which included many sought after species such as Shoebill, Black Bee-eater, three species of broadbill, African Skimmer, African Finfoot, both the African Pitta’s and regional endemics. There were also other attractions that were very persuasive such as the large array of wildlife that could be seen with Mountain Gorilla’s being the prime target. It didn’t take long for people to say yes to the trip and we soon had a group of six eager birders ready to go, such was the pulling power of the country and it’s potential.
It was agreed early on that we would use a local ground agent for travelling around the country and employ the services of local guides. After reading numerous trip reports and speaking to various people I contacted the Ugandan Bird Guides and started an e-mail correspondence with Johnnie Kamugisha. I had drawn up a potential itinerary, which was tweaked and changed over the following few months, and all the arrangements on the ground were taken care of by Johnnie. This included all transport, accommodation, park entrance fees, food and guiding etc for an all in price of $2410.00 per person. At the time of booking the pound sterling was strong against the dollar so this came out at around £1310.00 each. In addition the permits for Gorilla trekking had recently increased to $360 each, about £185.00. A deposit was wire transferred to the supplied bank details that was followed by a further transfer a few months before departure. The balance was taken with us to be paid locally.
I booked our flight with British Airways, via Trailfinders, at a cost of £564 per person. This would be a direct over night flight from London to Entebbe. There were cheaper flights available with different operators but this would have saved only about £75 each and added a stop over at Abu Dhabi and a further 6 hours of travelling. To enter the country a Visa is required which was obtained from the Ugandan High Commission, 58-59 Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DX at a cost of £25.00. The Visa is valid for 3 months.
On the ground we had a large and reliable Land Cruiser with pop roof for game viewing with space for the six of us and our ample luggage. In general the roads were not that bad with the main routes being tarmac whilst even the dirt tracks were in reasonable condition. The worst road encountered was between Bundibugyo and Semliki with some large potholes that made progress a rather slow affair. Tracks around the parks were reasonable and the road up to Ruhija from Bwindi had recently been improved. Night driving was avoided with the exception of travelling through Kampala on the last evening to get to the hotel at Entebbe.
We initially intended visiting in July or August as many birders and birding tour operators, such as Birdquest, visit during these months due to it being the dry season and travelling around the country much improved than in the rainy season. However after corresponding with Johnnie we learnt that May would the best time to visit as many birds would be breeding, would be easier to find and more over would be more tape responsive where as in July or August many birds would just be difficult to find with little or no response to tape playback. However I was unable to do the trip in May as it would clash with another birding trip so after some hastily agreed holiday changes at work we ended up travelling from the first week of June. This worked out well as many of the more difficult birds were still breeding and were still tape responsive as well as avoiding much of the late rains.
We generally enjoyed fine sunny and hot days though some were overcast, especially towards the end of the three weeks. We experienced heavy rain infrequently though there were several storms and heavy downpours at Semliki and Ruhija.
Insect annoyances were actually few and far between. There were only a few Tsetse Flies encountered at Murchison and Mosquitoes were not seen in numbers though nets were used most places as a continued precaution. One of the group suffered what was presumed bed bug bites at the Vanilla Hotel in Bundibugyo that could not be guarded against. In fact the worst offenders were the Ants. There were many large colonies noted in the forests and most people suffered a few bites on the legs though I managed to get a larger ant attack on the trail the Mubwindi Swamp at Ruhija. I had put my ruck sack down for only a few seconds to rearrange its contents and managed to get at least 20 or so forest ants as hitchhikers. Within minutes I was being bitten all over with a particularly large and stubborn soldier ant drawing blood from my wrist.
The local people were friendly with many speaking English though communication was a little more difficult in the more remote areas. Bureaucracy was minimal with entrance to the game parks producing little or no hassle. Entrance to the various parks is monitored with permits etc but generally nothing was to time wasting or in excess.
Uganda is regarded as a high-risk area for Malaria so a prophylaxis is required. I obtained Doxycycline for the duration of the trip. Always use insect repellent to help reduce the risk of getting Malaria and in the mornings and evenings wear long sleeves shirts and trousers. Wearing these will also help reduce sunburn, don’t under estimate the strength of the sun, even on a cloudy day and remember to drink plenty of water as you can become quickly dehydrated and not realise it.
Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe published by T & A D Poyser / Helm
This superb book covers all of the countries in the East African region and includes many of the different forms and races that occur. The illustrations are generally superb with no real problems with identifying any bird and whilst the text is brief it is generally adequate for each species. Some illustrations however just did not do certain birds justice, such as the Doherty’s Shrike. The biggest drawback of using this guide in the field is that it covers the whole East African region and not just Uganda thus working out some of the very similar species in a hurry is more complex though the clear maps with species text certainly helped in this respect.
Birds of Western Africa by Nik Borrow and Ron Demey published by Helm (field guide version)
A cut down field guide version of the hefty handbook of the same name. This guide was used mainly as a reference as many of the Ugandan birds have a West African bias but it was not used extensively in the field. It is another superb African field guide though some illustrations seemed to be at odds with the East African guide. Greater and Lesser Swamp Warblers in the East Africa guide just don’t look like the same species in the West Africa guide. The odd labelling error has also crept in, such as the Nicators, which could confuse matters if trying to sort out the trickier species. However this is still the essential guide to that regions birds.
Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania by Zimmerman, Turner and Pearson published by Helm
This guide was used extensively in Kenya on a previous trip and held up quite well against the guides noted above though some of the plates now seem a little crowded and even dated. Many species in this guide can be seen in Uganda and is useful as reference material.
Birds of Eastern Africa – Illustrated Checklist by Ber Van Perlo published by Collins
Not the best of bird guides and certainly not used that much, even as a reference, due to the rather lack lustre illustrations and bare bones text. That said it is much lighter and more ‘pocket’ friendly than either of the above and could be used in the field whilst the others could be left back at the accommodation for reference later.
Where to watch birds in Uganda by Johnathan Rossouw and Marco Sacchi published by Uganda Tourist Board
This is an essential book if planning to visit Uganda, even if you are going on an organised tour. Most of the best birding locations are included in this guide that includes trail maps and a list of species likely to be encountered. Other useful information can be found within the text, such as what side of the boat to sit on at Queen Elizabeth National Park. Virtually everything you need is in here though a few additional sites could now be included.
Birds of Africa south of the Sahara by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan published by Struik
Billed as a comprehensive field guide this is anything but a field guide. As the title indicates this book covers a vast region and as such is impractical as a field guide. It is, however, useful as a reference guide. The illustrations range from acceptable to good with short descriptions and range maps. Many different races or forms are shown with the text often advising "is often considered a race of….." and so on. It was not taken to Uganda but was referred to before and after the trip.
The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals by Jonathan Kingdon
The standard work on African Mammals was taken as a reference guide. Despite the odd confusing layout, the Giraffes for instance, most, though not all, of animals encountered were identified. It is essential for the Monkeys alone as Uganda has the highest concentration of primates of any African country. A pocket guide version became available soon after a number of people purchased the full version that has a better layout and is certainly easier to use as a ‘field’ guide.
Several trip reports were referred to in the build up to the trip and some certainly aided in refining our itinerary.
The following reports provided not only useful information but an interesting read into what was hopefully to come:
July 2002 – by Sam Woods. A helpful report and one that has been mentioned in a number of other reports
August 2002 – by Don Robertson
May-June 2004 – Ian Merrill: Surfbirds AT. No species checklist but a fascinating read covering the daily birding that was under taken.
July 2004 – by Geoff Dobbs
July/August 2004 – by Phil Benstead
July/August 2004 – Moira & Graeme Wallace:
The following websites provided the trip reports and other useful information:
Johnnie Kamugisha of the Uganda Bird Guides Club ugandasbirdguides AT hotmail.com
Johnnie had a sense of humour to his e-mails and this added to the expectation of an entertaining trip. I briefly met him at the British Birdwatching Fair in August 2004 and his sense of humour was also readily apparent here. He made all of the ground arrangements (accommodation, park permits etc) that included the securing of the permits for the Gorilla Trekking.
Johnnie is a very competent birder with a good knowledge of the Ugandan birds and wildlife. He is also a very good driver, all of the group felt perfectly safe with him at the wheel during the trip.
Alfred Twinomunjuni of the Uganda Bird Guides Club
I had learnt that Alfred was the best bird guide in Uganda, this was also acknowledged by Johnnie, so we attempted to book him for our visit to Bwindi, the area in which he is based. We were successful in getting him for our time here but we later had the good fortune to get him for the whole trip. We had to pay an extra $200 for his services though this was certainly worth it as I believe we would have struggled with some of the more difficult to find species. He was an excellent guide and certainly lived up to his reputation as the best bird guide in Uganda. His knowledge and ability to call any bird out by whistling its call was superb. He certainly came in to his own when in his home patch of Bwindi. Alfred was pleasant company throughout and I’m sure we would have seen a few less birds if it wasn’t for him.
Godfrey at Semliki National Park
Godfrey is a ranger with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and accompanied us on our walks around the Hot Springs and along the Kirumia Trail and has a good knowledge of the local birdlife.
The Sites (see the Rossouw & Sacchi site guide for full details of each site)
An extensive Papyrus swamp on the shore of Lake Victoria a short drive west of Entebbe Airport. Access to the swamp is by canoe that gives you a very good chance of getting Shoebill within hours of getting off the airplane. The area where you park by the Mabamba village just teams with birds and an hour could easily be spent here alone, especially if you’ve only just arrived in Uganda. The swamp has a number of channels passing through it where a selection of good species were encountered, such as Blue-breasted Bee-eater, herons, storks, African and Lesser Jacana, African Marsh Harriers, African Pygmy Goose, Malachite Kingfishers and several Cisticola species. There is also a raised island that can be used to scan for the Shoebill and itself is a haven for birds just a short walk from where you land. Birds here included Black-and-white Shrike Flycatcher, Didric Cuckoo and Blue Swallow. Half day should be sufficient to find the best birds at the swamp. On clear sunny days use plenty of sun block as you can easily burn to a crisp in a few hours.
Entebbe Botanical Gardens
Only a short drive from Entebbe airport these gardens will give you an introduction to African birds. It is mostly open woodland type habitat with tall trees where Hadada Ibis can be seen strolling around. The best areas were along the shore on Lake Victoria in the scrub and bushes. These bushes hold Orange Weaver, a species unlikely to be seen elsewhere in Uganda, Madagascar Bee-eaters, various heron species, kingfishers and other weavers. Primates are represented here by Black-and-white Colobus. Ants were noted biting ankles here when walking across the grassy areas to reach the shore. There is a charge to enter and a charge to use your camera here, around 3000shillings for a camcorder that the staff will come and ask for.
A remnant patch of primary and secondary forest one hour east of Kampala that holds a number of excellent species with many being seen within a short distance of the Bandas in which we were staying. There are several trails that lead into the forest and at least a couple of days would be needed to do the place any justice. A short drive along the main Jinja road is a broad dirt track that leads into the forest where birding is easier. Several species seen here that were not encountered on the forest trails earlier.
Busingiro, Budongo Forest
From the visitor centre birding is along the main road where most birding is spent craning upwards to search the canopy of the tall roadside trees. Excellent views, however, of Chocolate Backed and Dwarf Kingfishers, Emerald Cuckoo, Yellow-spotted Barbet and Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo were obtained. Several primate species were encountered though perhaps the best was Chimpanzee that was out on the road after a downpour.
The Royal Mile, Budongo Forest
This broad track cuts through some superb primary forest and a number of excellent species were found here. From the Nyabyeya College Guest House you pass through open habitats before reaching the forest with some quality birds found en-route with White-collared Oliveback and Black Cuckoo being amongst the most memorable. The forest produced a family group of Chimpanzee and quality birds in the form of Chestnut-capped and Forest Flycatchers, Great Sparrowhawk and Spotted Greenbul. The butterflies are well worth a look along the trail with many spectacular specimens being seen. A morning visit is best and you will be here for a good few hours.
Kanyo Papidi, Budongo Forest
This small area was reached late in the afternoon and was very quiet with only Puvel’s Illadopsis being found close to the car park. From our perspective this was a poor showing though the time of day was surely the influencing factor.
Murchison Falls National Park
This very large park was superb. Staying at the Red Chilli Rest Camp, formally known as the Paraa Rest Camp, on the south side of the Nile you can walk and bird, which is not something that can really be done on the north side of the river. The area around the camp held numerous semi arid, Acacia woodland species with Spotted Mourning Thrushes, Silverbirds, Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Pin-tailed Wydahs, Marabou and numerous others seen in the camp grounds whilst just along the main approach track White-browed Robin Chats, Grey Kestrels, White-rumped Seedeaters and Sooty Chats can be found.
The best birding is on the north side of the Nile, which a ferry is required to reach. This ferry begins traversing the Nile from 7am and continues on the hour until about 7pm. There are several game loops on the north side passing through open Acacia and Savannah type habitats with species such as Oribi, Kob, Giraffe, Buffalo and Hartebeest being abundant whilst Elephants were found close to the Albert Nile. Many bird species were found with several memorable sights such as Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Red-winged Grey Warbler, Red-throated and Carmine Bee-eaters, Black-billed Barbets, African Moustached and Broad-tailed Warblers and Lappet-faced Vulture.
The boat trip from the north shore landing area to the falls is worthwhile with excellent views from the boat’s upper deck of many Hippo’s, Fish Eagles, Darters and various other water birds. The falls are impressive with Rock Pratincoles present on boulders in the rapids. More Rock Pratincoles were seen above the falls though despite the many hundreds of bats leaving their roost no Bat Hawk was seen.
Situated midway between Murchison Falls National Park and the town of Masindi this area is good for Cliffchat at the switch back by the old ruins, Foxy Cisticola and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. There is a spectacular view over the huge Lake Albert with the Congo in the distance.
Most of our birding here was done along the main road outside the main gate or directly around the Bandas, we did not enter the main forest at any time. The birding along the main track was productive with good forest on either side producing numerous interesting species such as Black-billed Turaco Velvet-mantled Drongo, Sabine’s Spinetails and several primates. Indeed Kibale is well known for its primate list and is a reliable place to see Chimpanzees. Around the Bandas we had several fine birds with Crested Guineafowl and Red-capped Robin Chat being the pick of the bunch.
Not far from Kibale the birding here is generally in open habitat with a large list of birds made in our morning visit. The boardwalk section of the walk is a little rickety with many boards missing and being at odd angles however the Papyrus swamp here is home to Papyrus Gonolek and White-winged Warbler. Our walk from the Bigodi Wetland Centre took most of the morning in hot conditions but memorable birds were Bocage’s Bush Shrike, Double-toothed Barbet, Brown-eared Woodpecker, Black-and-white Shrike Flycatcher and White-winged Warbler.
Semliki (Hot Springs and Kirumia Trails)
We first birded the trail from the Visitor Centre to the Hot Springs through the thick under story forest passing crops en-route. The birding beneath the forest for tough going and the open areas around the springs only added a few extra species. Despite this a number of good birds were dug out. We spent a whole day along the Kirumia Trail that runs some 14 or so kilometres to the Semliki River through first secondary forest and then primary forest though we got as far as the first oxbow lake which was about 5 kilometres into the forest. The birding by all accounts was slow compared with other trips out here but we had some quality birds with the pick of the bunch being a cracking displaying Rufous-sided Broadbill, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, a Shining-blue Kingfisher for one of the group, Red-tailed Ant Thrush, and Crested Malimbe, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbills, Yellow Longbill, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Black Wattled Hornbill and 2 stunning Black Bee-eaters. A long, hot and sticky walk that involved crossing the Kirumia River, which by the time of our visit was nothing more than a muddy channel. When walking this trail you will need to take plenty of water out with you and carry a packed lunch as there is no returning to the van for refreshments as you are out for the whole day.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
This large National Park produced what I considered to be the best birding of the trip with the highlight being the boat trip along the Kazinga Channel. The park is a mix of thorn acacia scrub, savannah, wetlands and lakes and has a good cross section of birds and animals. A list of birds seen here would be too lengthy to include. The northern section is more thorn scrub than the less tourist visited southern section, which is more open grassland. Large animals are present in good numbers with Elephant seen everyday though surprisingly some species, such as Giraffe and Zebra, are noticeably absent. These are present only at Murchison and Lake Mburo respectively. We stayed 3 nights at the luxurious Mweya Game Lodge with its commanding views of the Kazinga Channel with African Skimmers seen from the balcony can’t be bad. Despite the time spent here it didn’t seem enough to even scratch the surface of the bird life here.
Maramagambo Forest, Queen Elizabeth National Park
An extension of the National Park on the opposite side of the Kazinga Channel is tropical dry forest with species not seen in the thorn scrub around Mweya. We spent a morning at the Jacana Lodge on the shore of the Lake Nyamasingiri and along its main approach track and superb birds such as Shining Blue Kingfisher, Bat Hawk and Black Bee-eater were seen extremely well.
Chambura River Gorge, Queen Elizabeth National Park
We stopped here for lunch with a fine view along the gorge from the view point though during the heat of the day few birds were seen though a White-headed Barbet was added to the trip list here.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Buhoma
From the Gorilla tracking centre we followed the main trail into the primary forest. Tourists are able to walk freely around the centre and up to the forest periphery where access is then only with guides and armed rangers. What is noticeable on the way here is the hills that were obviously once forested but are now covered in various plantations and cultivations and the sharp divide with the forest is clear. The main trail through the forest produced the best forest birding of the trip with some stunners being seen with Bar-tailed Trogon, Grey-winged robin Chat, Ludher’s Bush Shrike, Black-billed Weavers, Red-faced Woodland Warblers, Black-faced Rufous Warblers, White-headed Wood Hoopoes, Red-throated Alethe, White-bellied Crested Flycatcher, Red-fronted Antpecker an so on. This is a great place to look for the Albertine Rift Endemics. Most of the day can be spent walking the trail here and still only a fraction of what is possible will be seen.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, The Neck
The ‘neck’ is a narrow neck of forest that connects the north portion of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest with the southern section. The main track up to Ruhija passes along the neck allowing for good birding stops though it was relatively quiet when we passed through. The area below and above the neck is cultivations on the cleared hillsides that held some notable species with Red-throated Wryneck, Dusky Twinspot, Doherty’s Bushshrike and Regal Sunbirds.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Ruhija and the Mubwindi Swamp
There is a wide trail on the left of the main track to the Ruhija Ranger post above the valley that resulted in some more sort after endemics and limited local range species such as Grauer’s Warbler, Montane Masked Apalis, Collared Apalis, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Rwenzori Hill Babbler and Chestnut-throated Apalis. The forest here is open and almost has a sub alpine feel to it.
The trail to the Mubwindi Swamp, home to the African Green Broadbill, is long and steep and an all day event through rainforest. When visiting the swamp ensure you take plenty of water and a packed lunch as you will be out all day and remember to tuck trousers into socks here as ants are a menace as I can testify to. The hike back to the top from the swamp is steep but not too difficult. The trail produced more endemics such as Blue-headed Sunbird and Rwenzori Batis whilst the Green Broadbill showed well at the bottom of the trail. At and around the swamp species such as Grauer’s Rush Warbler, Archers Robin-chat, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon and White-starred Robin were found with a little effort.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, the Bamboo Zone
The area above the ranger post thins out with bamboo appearing higher up with more endemics and good birds present; Kivu Ground Thrush, Montane Sooty Boubou, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Dusky Turtle Dove and Handsome Francolin though this last species was only seen by the guide.
Mid way between Bwindi and Kampala this is a convenient stop off in either direction. We spent only an evening and most of a morning here and still managed to get a fair selection of species. The park is rather small and is acacia thorn scrub and scattered grassland habitats as well as the large lake. There are park tents in the bush so birding is right on your doorstep whilst the view from the park restaurant over the lake is excellent. The park has an affinity with species found in the Mara/Serengeti complex further east with highlights being Brubru, White-winged Tit, White-browed Scrub Robin, Lilac Breasted Roller, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike and striped Kingfisher. There’s game present here not found elsewhere in Uganda such as Burchell’s Zebra and Impala and are relatively abundant.
The park has a good number of African Finfoot present on the lake though a boat is needed to stand a real chance of getting one though a few people have been lucky by scoping the area from the restaurant. We had a morning boat trip and managed to get a male and a female within 15 minutes.
This swamp, about an hours drive east of Lake Mburo, has drained somewhat due to a drought in the area but it still had plenty of wet areas with a large flock of Grey-crowned Cranes present and numerous herons and egrets and Rufous-bellied Herons are probably still present but disturbance from people bringing their cattle to drink limited success in finding any here.
Mabira Forest, UWA Bandas
The Bandas have no electricity or running water in the huts with only a kerosene lamp for light, and not much light at that. There are basic beds with mosquito nets, which are recommended. The rooms have both a front and back door with the one at the rear leading to a small balcony and beyond a small trail leading to the toilet/shower block. The toilet is not much more than a hole in a concrete floor in a shed and the shower is a couple of jerry cans filled with hot and cold water by the visitor centre staff which you pour into a bowl so you can tip it over yourself, basic stuff. The food here was also basic and served by the centre and on a small raised platform outside. You will certainly need a torch to make your way around here and in the rooms themselves.
Murchison Falls, Red Chilli Rest Camp (formally known as Paraa Rest Camp)
This camp is situated only a short distance from the ferry, about 5 minutes or so by vehicle, and has some excellent birding within its grounds. There is a large campsite, which was being used whilst we were there, with separate toilet/shower blocks. There are large bandas that were quite comfortable with large comfortable beds with mosquito nets supplied. Within each Banda there are plug sockets for recharging and a fan. The en-suite bathroom has flush toilet and a shower though if using the shower run it before getting to make the water run clear, I got covered in red mud for a minute of so before it ran clear. Electricity is by generator that is switched off at night so make sure if recharging anything that you do it straight after you return.
Meals are taken in the main restaurant area with a fine view, in daylight, towards the Nile. Meals need to be pre-booked during the day so they are ready that evening whilst breakfast needs to be booked the previous evening. There is a limited menu but the meals are generally pretty good. The bar operates either a room tab that can be paid up when you leave or pay as you go service. There are various beers and soft drinks as well as snacks such as crisps and chocolate bars.
Budongo Forest, Nyabyeya Forestry College Guest House
The basic rooms are located in a blockhouse just down the hill below the ‘restaurant’ hall. The rooms each have a couple of beds with mosquito nets and a separate bathroom. There is a flush toilet and a simple shower but neither was of good standard. There are plug sockets for recharging batteries.
The food here was simple and similar to that at Mabira and was quite acceptable. The view across the valley from the guesthouse was stunning whilst we had the only White-crested Turacos of the trip just behind the room block on our arrival.
Kibale, Kanyanchu River Camp
The Bandas here are set in the forest and are again basic with a shower but no toilet. The beds don’t have their own mosquito nets so you will need to use your own. The shower is heating by a log burner outside which is lit by the staff in the later afternoon and is very refreshing. The toilet block is separate as is nothing more than a hole in the concrete floor and a bowl of water outside for rinsing your hands. Despite the rooms having lighting you will need a torch for visiting the toilet and walking to the dining hall as it is very dark in the forest. The food here is basic and perhaps the least satisfying of the trip, the chicken was overcooked by a long way. Still there were plenty of chips and potatoes to make up for it.
Semliki, Vanilla Hotel, Bundibugyo
Despite this being an apparently well maintained hotel on the outside I found this place the least satisfying of all the accommodation we stayed at. You pass through the town to reach the hotel and on our arrival we found there was no power and some of us had difficulty in obtaining any other source of lighting for the rooms, candles and own torches were all that were available. The rooms were small though we did have one to our selves, except for Brian and Angela. These small rooms had equally small beds with mosquito nets that didn’t fit properly. There was a bathroom in the back with a shower and a flush short drop toilet. We did have power on the second night and it is possible to recharge when it works. The walls are paper thin and conversations nearby could clearly be heard. One of the group suffered a lot of bits to his legs, possibly as a result of bed bugs or flees, and it was suspected they were as a resulted of staying at this hotel.
The food here was fine and plentiful with the japatties being a particularly tasty favourite with the group though the coffee ran out quickly and more had to be purchased from the nearby town.
Queen Elizabeth National Park, Mweya Safari Lodge
What can be said about this lodge other than, wow. Without doubt the best accommodation of the whole trip and it almost felt like an indulgence. Each room was immaculate with very comfortable beds, large mosquito nets, ample plug sockets, overhead fan, pristine bathroom and a killer view across the Kazinga Channel. The bathroom was excellent with a bath/shower combination, the water being hot almost as soon as you turn it on.
There is a laundry service at a reasonable price; the laundry bag is in the wardrobe. Hand it in and it will be back the next day, delivered to your door.
The main lodge has a large reception area where early morning coffee is served before you head out into the park with a souvenir shop that is a little over priced but does have post cards and stamps. There is large and well stocked bar whilst a central fireplace which makes for a relaxing setting to catch up on notes or checklists. The restaurant is excellent with inside and outside dining with most evening’s meals being ordered from a menu. Our last night there was a buffet that was just excellent, just so much to choose from.
There is swimming pool are balcony with its own bar that has a commanding view over the Kazinga Channel whilst several weavers and Swamp Flycatchers are nesting in bushes nearby.
Birding is good around the camp. Where the main lodge road runs in a loop past the main entrance and the past the room there is an area of rough ground in the centre. This held some fine birds such as Black-headed Gonolek and babblers. A lunchtime return visit to the lodge will allow you to bird around here for a few hours before going back out into the park.
Bwindi, Buhoma, Mantana Tented Camp
Not quite a luxury tented camp but still better than most other accommodation. The tents are large with reasonable beds with mosquito nets with lighting in the evenings. Each tent has its own shower and toilet attached at the rear though these are basic. The toilet is a short drop where you dump sand or earth in after use whilst the shower is filled without water by the camp staff on request.
The dining area had a limited bar whilst the meals were good. Breakfast though needs some serious work to get right. Ordering what you want is by a form, one per tent. This can cause confusion as two people share a tent but there is only room on the form for one order. Even if you don’t request something you get it anyway and what you do order you don’t get. On our last morning I ordered sausages, bacon and beans and got a single sausage only.
There is good birding in around the immediate area of the camp with Grey Parrots being seen going over and then subsequently perched in a tree nearby.
Bwindi, Ruhija, ITFC Guest House
This was most basic accommodation of the whole trip. We were located in the bunkhouse which has a large dining area and open fire. There is no electricity so lighting is by torch and kerosene lamp. The bunks are set high up with the lower bunk only a foot or so from the one above though the upper bunk can be removed so you don’t smash your head if you get up in hurry. You are high enough up the mountain not to need mosquito nets.
Food here is prepared over open wood burners and brought to the dining area by our chef Meded who we had brought with us from Mantana Camp. He did sterling work and the meals were always very good.
The toilet is located down a slippery slope, even worse in the dark and when wet after rain. The shed has nothing other than a hole cut out of the floorboards; you will need to bring a torch with you if using it at night. The shower, located behind the other blockhouse in the camp, is not much different except no hole in the floor. The shower is actually not much more than a couple of jerry cans with heated water and a bowl, basic stuff. We didn’t spend much time birding the ITFC grounds but the village close by did give us a Rwenzori Nightjar.
Lake Mburo, National Park Tents
The tents here had seen better days with holes and broken zips. They were small for two people but we got by for one night. There are mosquito nets supplied but check for holes in these also. Light is supplied by a kerosene lamp. There are no fences to keep the wild animals out so be careful when visiting the toilet, which is set back from the camp. The toilet is in a concrete shed and is of long drop design with large open windows for a view. The main shower block had no water whilst the ‘bush’ shower did at least have water it was decided to skip showers until we reached Entebbe the following night.
The park restaurant is located right on the shore of Lake Mburo and is about 10 minutes drive from the camp. There is no electricity so meals are taken by torch and kerosene lamp. You will need to pre-book your meals on arrival to ensure they are prepared for the evening. These were pretty good. There is a limited menu but generally you can’t go wrong if you order chicken and chips.
Birding around the camp is good; we had African Scops Owl and a Nightjar in the evening whilst a walk along the track in the morning gave us many dry country species.
Day 1: 3rd June – Overnight flight from London Heathrow arrived at Entebbe early morning. We then transferred to the nearby Mabamba Wetlands where we spent a good number of hours searching the swamp for Shoebill that ended with an excellent tally of five birds. Many good wetland species were found here that included a pair of African Pygmy Geese, a fine Lesser Jacana, three Blue Swallows and numerous herons and egrets. Our mid afternoon lunch stop was at the Entebbe Golf Club, with nearby birds distracting us from our meals. The last few hours of the day were spent at the Entebbe Botanical Gardens where Black-and-white Casqued Hornbills, Giant Kingfishers and Orange Weavers topped the list of birds seen. From here we travelled, mostly in the dark, to Mabira Forest where we stayed overnight at the UWA Bandas.
Day 2: 4th June – Whole day was spent birding the Mabira Forest trails where many superb species were encountered, some of the highlights included White-spotted Flufftail, Red-headed Bluebill, Grey Parrots, Forest Wood-hoopoe, Great Blue Turacos and Yellow-billed Barbet. A second night was spent at the Mabira Forest UWA Bandas
Day 3: 5th June – After early morning birding around the camp area we departed on the long drive north to the Budongo Forest. We had a lunch stop at the Masindi Hotel. We arrived at the Nyabyeya Forestry College Guest House mid afternoon and half an hour later we were watching White-crested Turacos at the back of the accommodation block. Our evening birding was spent along the main road at Busingiro where, after the rain had stopped Chimpanzee, African Dwarf and Chocolate-backed Kingfishers, Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo and Emerald Cuckoo were amongst the many highlights seen here. Over night was at the Nyabyeya Forestry College Guest House where a Spotted Eagle Owl was seen on nearby fence posts an hour after it got dark.
Day 4: 6th June – The morning was spent birding the Royal Mile with many good birds seen along the broad forest trail with highlights, amongst others, being Great Sparrowhawk, Forest Flycatchers, Narina Trogon and Rufous-capped Flycatcher. For some though the highlight was the family group of Chimpanzee that we found close to the path, screaming loudly. From here we proceeded to Kaniyo Pabidi arriving mid afternoon. Kaniyo Pabidi was disappointing with only Puvel’s Illadopsis being seen. We arrived at Murchison Falls National park late afternoon and picked up a number of species as we traversed the opened thorn-scrub/grassland. Overnight was spent at the comfortable Red Chilli Rest Camp (previously known as the Paraa Rest Camp).
Day 5: 7th June – Pre-breakfast was spent birding around the camp where Spotted Mourning Thrushes were amongst the highlights. From 8am to early afternoon we birded the north side of the Nile doing the game loops to the Albert Nile and back. Many superb birds and animals were seen with Elephant, Uganda Kob, Oribi, Giraffe, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Speckle-fronted Weavers, Red-throated and Carmine Bee-eaters and Silverbird were amongst the many highlights. We lunched at the up market Sarova Paraa Lodge before our afternoon boat trip on the Victoria Nile to the bottom of the Murchison Falls where two very approachable Rock Pratincoles were the star birds. This was followed by a short game drive to the top of the falls where we watched streams of bats heading out, unmolested by the lack of Bat Hawk, into the night. Pennant-winged and Long-tailed Nightjars were seen on the dive back to the Red Chilli Rest Camp where we stayed overnight.
Day 6: 8th June – We birded along the road before breakfast which was followed by a long drive south through Murchison Falls National Park, to Kibale Forest. We noted good birds en-route with a colony of weavers outside the park boundary that included some very fine male Northern Red and Yellow-crowned Bishops. We stopped at Butiaba Escarpment for a few hours where we added Cliffchat, Foxy Cisticola, Golden-breasted and Cinnamon-breasted Rock Bunting to the increasing list. Birds noted en-route included a cracking Papyrus Gonolek. We arrived late afternoon at Kibale, and had a little birding time along the road where we had a couple of excellent Ludher’s Bush Shrikes and a couple of Cassin’s Grey Flycatchers. We overnighted at the UWA Bandas.
Day 7: 9th June – Early morning produced Red-capped Robin Chat around the bandas before we headed off to the visitor centre at the Bigodi Wetland area. We embarked on morning walk that lasted a good number of hours and produced some excellent birds with Great Sparrowhawk, White-winged Warbler and Black-and-white Shrike Flycatcher amongst the best seen. Late afternoon was spent birding along the main road at Kibale, where we had excellent views of Black-billed Turaco. Overnight was again at the UWA Bandas.
Day 8: 10th June – We had an early morning departure for Semliki National Park. We passed through some stunning scenery with some excellent views across the Congo Basin and the steaming Hot Springs as from a good vantage point. From mid morning to mid afternoon we birded the trail to the Hot Springs with local guide Godfrey. Birding was slow but there were some choice birds seen being Green-tailed Bristlebill, Forest Robins and Three–banded Plovers. The afternoon was rained out so we retired to our hotel, the hotel Vanilla in Bundibugyo for the rest of the day.
Day 9: 11th June – Virtually the whole day was spent birding the Kirumira Tail at Semliki National Park where such crackers as Rufous-sided Broadbill, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbills and Red-rumped Tinkerbird being seen well despite being rather less active than usual. Overnight was again at the Vanilla Hotel.
Day 10: 12th June – Early morning along the road close to the Semliki Hot Springs gave us the Rod Stewart of the hornbill world, White-crested Hornbill, bizarre looking bird. Afternoon drive to Fort Portal where we lunched at the popular Garden Restaurant. We arrived at Queen Elizabeth National Park in the early evening and a fruitful few hours driving the grasslands gave us Wattled, Senegal and Spur-winged Plovers, Spurfowl and best of all Giant Forest Hogs. We continued in the dark to Mweya Safari Lodge, where we to stay for three nights, resulted in brief views of nightjars.
Day 11: 13th June – The whole morning we birded Queen Elizabeth National Park where so many good birds were seen, such as Black-bellied Bustard, Blue and Harlequin Quail and Common Buttonquail whilst game was abundant with Ugandan Kob particular common. After lunch back at the lodge we had a fantastic boat trip on the Kazinga Channel for a couple of hours where several hundred African Skimmers, Martial Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, Saddle-billed Stork, Water Thick-knees, Pink-backed and Great White Pelicans were amongst the avian highlights. An evening game drive gave us more good birding.
Day 12: 14th June – We had an early morning direct drive to Maramagambo Forest as we were on a mission the get Shining Blue Kingfisher. We arrived at Jacana Lodge nice and early and we rewarded almost immediately with a stunning Shining Blue Kingfisher. During the next couple of hours birding from the lodge swimming pool also gave us Bat Hawk that was a bird we missed at Murchison Falls. We walked back along the lodge’s approach track, which was fruitful in giving us a stunning
Black Bee-eater, see the cover photo as well as a fabulous male Narina Trogon, several Black-headed Batis and an all dark paradise Flycatcher that was a dead ringer for Bedford’s Paradise Flycatcher which is only found in Congo. Despite this it appears that we were not that far from one of the limited Congo sites of the species. After a mid afternoon lunch break at the Chambura Gorge we returned to the game loop and eventually had several Lion, a female and two cubs and an excellent flight of Collared Pratincoles around the van.
Day 13: 15th June – We departed early, watching a herd of Elephants en-route, with a long drive south through Queen Elizabeth National Park to the Ishasa Sector where our second Black-bellied Bustard was seen well next to the van. We also had our first Topi here but failed to find the famous tree climbing Lions. We continued to the Mantana Tented Camp at Buhoma with a brief stop off at Alfred’s home. We had a short walk around the vicinity of the camp where we had excellent views of
McKinnon’s Fiscals, Brown-throated Wattle eye and Grey Parrots.
Day 14: 16th June – The whole day spent birding the main trail in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where such gems as Bar-tailed Trogon, Black-faced Rufous Warblers, Red-collared Alethe and Blue-throated Rollers and a stunning Barred Prinia that reminded me of some South American Ant-shrikes. Endemics were added to the list here, such as Red-faced Woodland Warbler, though one of the big birds was heard and glimpsed only with no tickable views, poor showing for Short-tailed Warbler. This was a long day but it did produce the best forest birding of the trip.
Day 15: 17th June – We departed on our Gorilla trekking from the main centre by 8am and after a steep climb above the valley we were watching the huge primates by 10am, including the powerhouse silverback male. After our time was up, and after our packed lunches, we were back at camp at just after midday. After the souvenir shopping was done we had a short siesta before exploring the deforested area below the village. Here were two roosting Bat Hawks, a showy Grey-capped Warbler and a
Day 16: 18th June – The road up to Ruhija had been improved only a few months before our trip from being a boulder strewn bumpy ride to smooth easy going bird filled joy. We departed early with the numerous stops, as we gained altitude, continued to give us new birds. Amongst the most memorable was a fine singing Red-throated Wryneck, a pair of Dusky Twinspots, a truly stunning Doherty’s Bush Shrike and a Brown-backed Robin Chat. In the evening we birded the trail above the valley at Ruhija where several endemics were found, such as Grauer’s Warbler, Collared Apalis as well as other much admired birds such as the marvellous Chestnut-throated Apalis. An African Wood Owl was called in and spotlighted well. We overnighted at the
ITFC Guest House.
Day 17: 19th June – Today spent hiking down to the Mubwindi Swamp. This was long, hot and steep but littered with superb birds, such as the endemic Rwenzori Batis and Blue-headed Sunbird whilst the target bird, African Green Broadbill, was seen well at the base of the trail. Grauer’s Swamp Warbler, White-starred and Archers Robin Chats, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon and
Olive Thrush were a stunning supporting cast. Heavy rain in the evening stopped further birding until about 9pm when we had views of a Rwenzori Nightjar in the nearby village.
Day 18: 20th June – We birding the Bamboo section above Ruhija where Kivu Ground Thrush gave us the run around. Further quality birds here included White-starred Robin, Cinnamon-bracken Warbler, Dusky Turtle Dove and Montane Sooty Boubou. From here we proceeded to Lake Mburo where we arrived late afternoon where Zebra and Impala greeted us soon after passing through the entrance gate. In the evening a Hippo was wandering around by the lakeside restaurant whilst Black-shouldered Nightjar and African Scops Owl gave excellent spotlight views in the evening near our campsite. Over night was at the
National Park tents.
Day 19: 21st June – Morning birding around Lake Mburo National Park with the highlight being the boat trip from 10am for the African Finfoot with two being seen very well. En-route we stopped at Kaaku Swamp, which was much reduced to drought conditions in the area. We arrived at our hotel in Entebbe mid evening.
Day 20: 22nd June – Morning departure for flight back to the UK