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Uganda Tour Report, 19th February to 6th March 2005

Days 1 & 2: Saturday, 19th & Sunday, 20th February

Our overnight Kenya Airways flight from Heathrow arrived more or less on time in Nairobi, but the onward flight to Entebbe was delayed with the result that our arrival in Uganda was a little later than planned.

We were met at the airport by our driver, Fred K, and quickly transferred to the nearby Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel.  It then needed just half an hour or so for us to freshen up before we headed off to the Botanical Gardens that are adjacent to the hotel.  Situated on the shore of Lake Victoria, they contain many interesting trees and shrubs that provide a selection of different habitats for many birds and insects.  Perhaps inevitably though we were attracted mainly to the lakeside trees and bushes and certainly these seemed to hold the greatest numbers of birds.  These included six species of weavers, Blue-cheeked and White-throated Bee-eaters, Pied and Woodland Kingfishers, Black-and-white Mannikin, Black-headed Gonolek, Klaas’s and Diederik Cuckoos.

Around the shore of the lake were numerous herons, egrets, storks, ibises and sandpipers, all of them species with which we were to become very familiar over the next two weeks.  And the same could be said for the Gull-billed and White-winged Terns flying over the water and the numerous Black Kites and African Fish Eagles.

When we did stray away from the lake, there were spectacular Great Blue Turacos in the taller trees and equally impressive were the Black-and-white-casqued Hornbills.  We also saw our first primates: Guereza Colobus and Vervet Monkeys.

We made two visits to the Botanical Gardens, returning between them for lunch in the hotel.  There were plenty of birds in the hotel grounds, including Broad-billed Rollers, Red-chested and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds and later a Crowned Hornbill that had a small bat in its bill, which it had presumably killed. 

Day 3: Monday, 21st February

We left the hotel this morning at 6.40am after what was considering the time of day, an excellent breakfast.  Our first task was to pick up our bird guide for the tour, Fred Bagonza, and this involved quite a long, but interesting drive into the outskirts of Kampala where scavenging Black Kites were numerous.

Having located Fred B, we set off to Mabamba, but on the way disaster struck when it was discovered that his suitcase containing clothes, camera, passport and everything that he was going to need during the two week tour had been lost.  With the Land Cruiser full of our luggage and belongings, Fred’s suitcase had been placed on the roof, but as a result of the bumpy road or perhaps the updraft from a passing bus it had been thrown off.  As soon as it was realised what had happened, he set off back to look for his belongings and later, having delivered us to Mabamba, Fred K also went back to aid the search.  

At Mabamba we scrambled aboard two ‘dug-out’ style boats and were taken out into the swamp to look for one of the main attractions of the whole tour – the enigmatic Shoebill.  One behind the other, the boats were paddled along narrow channels between the reeds and papyrus and it seemed to be no time at all before the local guide was pointing to a grey shape in the distance.      

Nothing prepares you for your first sight of this magnificent but strange, almost pre-historic looking bird.  Eventually we got within about 50 yards of it and watched as it moved about, somewhat ponderously, searching for prey.  Shoebills feed mainly on lungfish, catfish, frogs and water snakes, which they scoop up into their massive, broad, hook-tipped bill.  They live a mainly silent and solitary life, breeding from the age of four and producing a single chick every second year.  This bird seemed quite unperturbed by our presence and showed no inclination to fly off.

Eventually, we set off to explore other parts of the swamp and there were birds all the way.  African Jacanas and Pied Kingfishers were particularly numerous, Long-toed Lapwings drew attention to themselves with their noisy, metallic calls and there were several Purple Herons, Eurasian Marsh Harriers and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters.  Everywhere Winding Cisticolas were singing and other passerines in the extensive reedbeds included Fan-tailed Widowbirds, Common Waxbills and Golden-backed Weavers.  Particular highlights were a huge Goliath Heron and a pair of dainty African Pygmy Geese and there was a brief glimpse of two Spot-necked Otters.  As we headed back, a Malachite Kingfisher provided a flash of colour.

Back on dry land, while we waited for the Freds to return, we watched Black-necked Weaver, African Firefinch, African Pied Wagtail, Blue-breasted Bee-eater and a distant Black-shouldered Kite.  When the Freds did appear, it was unfortunately without the missing suitcase.

Photo: Blue-breasted Bee-eater - Peter Dedicoat

Blue-breasted Bee-eater

After a short drive back along the dirt road that had brought us to Mabamba, we turned off to the right down a narrow track that took us close to the shore of Lake Victoria.  We walked for a while here without covering much distance.  African Palm Swifts and White-rumped Swifts flew overhead, an African Fish Eagle perched nearby and there was also a good view of an African Pied Hornbill.  We were also able to look closely at more Blue-breasted Bee-eaters and a Tawny-flanked Prinia eventually showed itself.  The star of the show, however, was a Grey Kestrel, which seemed to be the reason for a certain amount of hysteria amongst the many hirundines.  In the end it settled for making a meal out of a large grasshopper, which it swooped down to pick up out of the grass.

From here we had quite a long drive to Mpigi where we had lunch (telapia and chips) at the MK Restaurant.  And then it was time to head back to Kampala.  There was no serious birding on the way, but after checking in to our new hotel, a walk in the grounds of the Sheraton produced Double-toothed Barbet and African Thrush, as well as numerous Black Kites, Marabou Storks and Hooded Vultures.

Later, the buffet dinner at the Sheraton was superb and probably the best meal of the entire tour.

Day 4: Tuesday, 22nd February

It was just after 8.00am when we finally got away from the Sheraton this morning.  It was almost exactly twelve hours later that we arrived at the Lake View Hotel in Mbarara.  In between, there was obviously a long drive, but also some excellent birding.

Our first stop was at Mpanga Forest, an area of medium-altitude evergreen and swamp forest about 40km to the west of Kampala.  As on previous visits here, we heard far more birds than we saw.  Crowned and Black-and-white-casqued Hornbills were conspicuous, but they were definitely the exceptions!  In fact, we paid more attention to the wonderful selection of butterflies than we did to the birds and Red-tailed Monkeys were also seen here for the first time.  We simply couldn’t afford the time that would have been necessary to locate birds in the huge trees and when we left, after less than two hours, it was with the feeling that we could actually have spent the whole day in this wonderful forest.

Next we stopped at a water treatment plant where a viewing platform has been erected overlooking a huge wetland area.  Here we saw the only Rufous-bellied Herons of the tour, plus African Marsh Harrier, Long-toed Lapwings, Yellow-billed Ducks and Green Wood Hoopoes.

Our route took us across the Equator, where we stopped for photographs and also for an apparent demonstration of water draining away clockwise and anti-clockwise in the northern and southern hemispheres.

And later, when we spotted our first Grey Crowned Cranes, we got out of the minibus and walked a short way along the roadside.  There must have been about 100 cranes and in the same area two Saddle-billed Storks, several Great White and Intermediate Egrets, Hadada and Sacred Ibises, Hamerkop and White-faced Whistling Ducks.  A party of Black-lored Babblers passed through noisily and we had a ‘scope view of the only Lilac-breasted Roller of the tour on a roadside power line.

Some distance further on, we turned left off the main road towards Lake Mburo National Park.  Along this approach road we saw Bateleur, Wahlberg’s Eagle and Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike.  There was an especially good view of a Long-crested Eagle perched on a euphorbia and when we stopped at the park gate to complete entrance formalities, a Bare-faced Go-away-bird posed for pictures.  We stopped several times to look at numerous Zebras, Warthogs, Impala and Waterbuck plus one or two Bushbuck and Topi and when we finally reached the lake there were several Hippos in the water.

Photo: Grey Crowned Crane - Peter Dedicoat

Grey Crowned Crane

The light was starting to fade as we set off for Mbarara and well before we reached the hotel it was dark.

Day 5: Wednesday, 23rd February

Pre-breakfast birding in the grounds of the hotel produced Malachite and Woodland Kingfishers, Green and Common Sandpipers, African Openbills, Marabou Storks, Sacred Ibis, Little Grebes, Yellow-backed Weavers, Swamp Flycatcher, Olive Thrush, Black-crowned Night Heron and a male Pallid Harrier.  Most of these were seen again after breakfast, when we spent half an hour by the lake before setting out on the journey to Bwindi.  Also seen were two Grey Crowned Cranes, a Grey Heron and a White-browed Robin Chat.

We set off from Mbarara at about 9.15am, heading first for Kabale.  There was one stop on the way, notable particularly first our look at a stunning Papyrus Gonolek.  True to form, this bird took a little persuading to show itself, preferring to call from deep in cover, but eventually it obliged.  Also seen were Chubb’s Cisticola, Bronze Sunbird and African Wattled Plovers.

We had a very pleasant lunch at the White Horse Inn in Kabale.  In the grounds here were Hadada Ibis, Baglafecht Weaver, a pair of Ashy Flycatchers with young and a Streaky Seedeater, but the large roost of Straw-coloured Fruit Bats probably made the most impression.

From Kabale it was a five-hour drive on a sometimes rather bumpy dirt road to Bwindi.  Our route took us through some splendid scenery in an area known as ‘little Switzerland’ as well as through extensive tea plantations.  We had an enforced stop to change a wheel and luckily this was at a spot where there were some birds to see while the Freds were getting the job done.  We also attracted the attention of local villagers here, who were clearly puzzled by our interest in Stonechat, Brimstone Canary, African Firefinch, Bronze Mannikin and Yellow-backed Weaver, birds that were coming to bathe in water a short distance off the road.

Later stops resulted in us seeing Augur Buzzards, Common Buzzard (looking quite unlike the familiar UK version), Yellow-crowned Canaries, Scarce Swift, Black Saw-wing, Rock Martin, Double-toothed Barbet and Yellow-throated Greenbul.  In fields along the way, there were quite a number of Grey Crowned Cranes.

It was 7.30pm and very nearly dark when we arrived at the Lake Kitandara Tented Camp, where cool beers and hot showers were very welcome before dinner.

Day 6: Thursday, 24th February

Today was taken up with a trek into the Impenetrable Forest to look for Mountain Gorillas.  After breakfast we walked the short distance to the park headquarters to meet the guides, porters and other trekkers with whom our group would be spending the day.  After a briefing they set off in the Land Cruiser for the start of what turned out to be an unusually long and strenuous search for the Habinyanja group, one of three groups of habituated gorillas in the Impenetrable Forest.

To “habituate” gorillas means getting them used to humans, for tourism or research purposes.  This process can take up to two years.  It involves the trackers setting out every day, rain or shine, to find the gorillas, follow them and spend time with them.  Gradually, over a period of many months, the gorillas start to feel comfortable in the presence of the trackers and lose their fear of humans.  At this point the trackers assume a responsibility to protect these special animals, hence the strictly enforced rules that apply to tracking.

Although habituated, the gorillas very much remain wild creatures with no fixed routine.  Finding them each day requires skill and experience and there are never any guarantees about how soon or at what distance they will be found.  Today our group spent about ten hours in the forest and came back exhausted.  Just occasionally that happens!  Nevertheless, most enjoyed this unique experience and they returned with some excellent photographs.

Day 7: Friday, 25th February

After an early breakfast, those of us who weren’t still recovering from yesterday’s exertions set out into the forest where we enjoyed an excellent morning’s birding.  As well as Fred B, we were accompanied by Robert, a birding guide from the local village, two park rangers and an armed guard from the UPDF.  As well as an excellent selection of birds, which included Black Bee-eater, Yellow-crested Woodpecker, Banded Prinia, Black-billed Weaver, Bar-tailed Trogon, Magpie Mannikin and Shelley’s Greenbul, we saw a wonderful selection of butterflies, Boehm’s Squirrel and both L’Hoest’s and Red-tailed Monkeys.  It was almost 2.00pm when we got back for lunch, by which time there was thunder in the air and the threat of rain.

We went out again at 4.00pm.  Fred drove us out beyond the village of Buhoma and then we walked across several fields to a marshy area, where we were eventually successful in seeing, albeit briefly, a Red-chested Flufftail.  Flufftails are notoriously difficult to see and for some of us this was one of the highlights of the entire tour.

On a dull overcast afternoon, other birds seen included four Woolly-necked Storks, a Bat Hawk, Augur Buzzard, Grey Crowned Crane, African Green Pigeon, Snowy-headed Robin-Chat and Mackinnon’s Fiscal.

Later, the inevitable downpour began while we were having dinner and stranded us for a while in the dining room.  The heavy thunderstorm went on well into the night.

Day 8: Saturday, 26th February

We left Bwindi this morning at 7.30am for the journey to Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP).  Last night’s rain had settled the dust and this, coupled with a lower temperature, made for a much more pleasant trip than the one had coming from Mbarara on Wednesday.

We hadn’t travelled very far when we made our first stop.  It was at the point where the road crosses the Munyaga River and we walked a short distance along the road, causing a certain amount of consternation to passing locals.  One woman was persuaded to take a look through a telescope at a Peregrine Falcon that had flown over and landed in a tree.  She didn’t seem particularly impressed!  Other species that we saw here were Grey Crowned Cranes, Red-collared Widowbird, Violet-backed Starlings and Blue-headed Coucal, but it was still a rather grey morning.

We continued through Butogota and Bulema to enter QENP through the Ishasha sector.  When we stopped to look at a flock of what turned out to be Black-headed Weavers, we had excellent views of two Nubian Woodpeckers and White-browed Robin-Chats, plus some rather distant Guereza Colobus monkeys.  Highlights of other stops, when we didn’t leave the vehicle, were a Short-toed Eagle (identified after some debate and not until it flew a short distance and gave a better view!), Brown Snake Eagle, a Palm-nut Vulture (tussling with two Common Buzzards over some scraps from a carcass) and an African Hobby that flew up from the road in front of us.  There were also mammals: a Giant Forest Hog that was also in the road and for a while didn’t seem to know what to do to get out of the way and our first Elephant, Kob and Buffalo.

It was shortly after 2.00pm when we eventually reached Mweya Lodge and so, before checking in we quickly headed for the restaurant and enjoyed an excellent lunch.  The lodge is attractively situated on a peninsula at the western end of the Kazinga Channel that connects Lakes George and Edward and there is a wonderful view across the water from the restaurant.

After settling into our rooms for only a short while, we re-convened at 4.40pm for the short drive to the jetty for a boat trip that is always one of the great highlights of any visit here.  While we waited for the boat, a Warthog wandered up to within a few feet of us.

Once on the boat, we crossed the Kazinga Channel and travelled a short way along the south side of Lake Edward.  We had about two hours when we were almost constantly looking at birds and mammals, mainly on the edge of the lake.  We enjoyed particularly close views of Buffalo and Hippos and we saw a wonderful array of herons, egrets, cormorants, pelicans, storks and waders.  Species recorded for the only time on the tour were White-breasted Cormorant, Striated Heron, Collared Pratincole, Ringed Plover, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone.  African Skimmers put on a good show and colourful Saddle-billed Storks were also popular.  On the way back, three Lions were spotted and the boatman diverted so that we could get a closer look at them.

It was after 7.00pm when we returned to the lodge.  Dinner at 8.30pm was punctuated by attempts to find out football results, an ultimately disappointing exercise for some of us!

Day 9: Sunday, 27th February

It was raining heavily from about 6.00am and it looked at first as though we might be in for a difficult time.  However, the weather soon improved and didn’t really trouble us at all during what proved to be an excellent day.

As we headed out from Mweya Lodge, our first stop was when two Verreaux’s Eagle Owls were spotted, perched on top of euphorbias by the roadside.  Only a short distance further on, a Spotted Hyaena was seen running off.

After reaching the main road at Katunguru, we crossed the Kazinga Channel and then stopped to look for Papyrus Gonolek and White-winged Warbler.  Once again we had excellent views of the Gonolek, but as so often the warbler proved elusive.

We turned off the road to Fig Tree Camp, overlooking the Chambura River Gorge and it was here that we ate our picnic breakfast.  Birds here included White-headed Barbet, Greater Honeyguide and Black-and-white-casqued Hornbills.  As we came away, several Blue-naped Mousebirds put in a brief appearance.

We headed now towards Maramagambo Forest, stopping for various birds on the way.  These included Grey Woodpecker, Common Buzzard, Red-collared Widowbird, Whinchat, Tropical Boubou and a particularly obliging Blue-breasted Kingfisher.  From Jacana Lodge we enjoyed the view over Lake Nyamasingiri, but the only birds to be seen on the water were about half a dozen Little grebes. 

We walked back from the lodge on the road along which we had come, but by now it was midday and becoming quite warm and there was little bird activity.  We did see a Green Crombec, but most of our time was devoted to Guereza Colobus and Vervet Monkeys, the latter in particular prepared to pose for photographs with her babies.

After an excellent lunch at the lodge, we drove back to the Ranger Station and took the short loop trail that runs to the Bat Cave.  It was impossible to estimate the number of Egyptian Fruit Bats present, but there were certainly many thousands of them, an impressive sight.  The smell of the guano is something that won’t have been captured on the many photographs taken.  The local Ranger pointed out a Nile Monitor lizard that lives in the cave and feeds on the bats.  There was also a snake, described as ‘a cobra’, but no one seemed keen to investigate sufficiently to determine its species!  Unfortunately, a large Rock Python that also regularly exploits this tremendous food resource could not be found this afternoon.

Further along the trail we had a brief glimpse through the trees of a distant Yellowbill and we were able to call it up using a tape.  Although this resulted in a much closer view, it still stayed high in the canopy and remained difficult to see.  Back at the parking area, we saw Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush and a very non-descript bird eventually identified as a Little Grey Greenbul.

Our drive back to the main road was punctuated by several stops.  Species seen included Olive Baboons, Kob, Common Waxbills, Croaking Cisticola, African Pygmy Kingfisher and Brimstone Canary.

Day 10: Monday, 28th February

This morning we had breakfast at Mweya Lodge at 7.00am and then headed out on a game drive that eventually took us on the Kasenyi Track.

Larks were a particular target today and we eventually found Rufous-naped, Flappet and Red-capped.  While looking for these we also saw Crowned Lapwings, our first Grassland Pipit and what was probably a Northern Wheatear.  It was a great morning for raptors with Brown Snake Eagle, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Bateleur, African Marsh Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier, African Harrier-Hawk and African White-backed Vulture just some of the species seen.  The main bird highlight of the morning, however, was undoubtedly the close approach we were able to make to a Martial Eagle perched in a roadside tree.  We gradually drove right up to this bird, providing the photo opportunity of a lifetime!  It was also a good morning for mammals, with Elephants, Buffalo, Waterbuck and Kob amongst those seen.

We returned to the lodge for lunch around 2.00pm and then went out again at 4.30pm.  While we were there we had a brief encounter with the group of Banded Mongooses that inhabit the site and which have been the subjects of a long-term study. 

We began this late afternoon session by driving out towards the nearby town of Katwe and having a short walk along the shore of Lake Edward.  Here there were Yellow-billed Storks, Goliath Heron, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Malachite Kingfisher and Lesser Striped Swallows.

Next we went to Munyanyange Lake where we were faced with literally hundreds of gulls, terns and waders to sort through.  This was quite a task and we walked part way round the lake to get a better look and get the light behind us.  In the event, the gulls all proved to be Lesser Black-backs and the terns were all Gull-billed, but the waders included maybe 200 Little Stints, plus small numbers of Kittlitz’s Plovers, Ruff, Marsh Sandpipers and Greenshanks.  Possibly the highlights here, however, were five Lesser Flamingos.

Day 11: Tuesday, 1st March

We checked out of Mweya Lodge after breakfast and began our journey to Ndali Lodge, situated on the edge of Kibale Forest National Park, close to the town of Fort Portal.  We left QENP driving through the scenic Crater area that lies north of the Katwe road and this, too, proved to be excellent for raptors with Brown Snake Eagle, Black-shouldered Kite, African White-backed Vulture and Bateleur amongst the species seen.  We also saw the only two Temminck’s Coursers of the tour and while watching a large herd of Buffalo found our only Yellow-billed Oxpeckers.  We walked for a short distance and, hearing the now familiar ‘I’m so sad’ call of a Black Cuckoo, used the tape to attract it nearer so that we could see it at last.

Once we left QENP there were few further stops on the way to Ndali Lodge and the only notable birds were a small party of Abdim’s Storks.  The last part of the journey, the rough dirt road from Fort Portal to the lodge, was mostly uphill and very bumpy, but it was well worth it as the lodge, set high above Lake Nyinambuga, proved to be quite delightful.  As well as the marvellous views, the slightly lower temperature at this higher elevation made a pleasant change.

We ate lunch on arrival and had a short break to freshen up, but very soon we were ready to go again with an afternoon at Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary in prospect.  Our route there took us through Kibale Forest and we stopped at a bridge where Fred B quickly located a Cassin’s Grey Flycatcher in a typical woodland stream location.

At Bigodi we were met by Gerald, who was to be our guide as we walked the swamp trail.  Bigodi is a community-based project and thus provides local people with jobs and revenue, enabling them to protect the area and its wildlife.  It offers access to Magombe Swamp, an interesting area of papyrus and swamp forest.

We were about one-quarter of the way around the loop trail when it began to rain and we paused for a while to see whether it was going to get worse and whether we should continue.  In the event, it didn’t prove to be too serious and we did go on, reaching a boardwalk where Papyrus Gonolek was hard to ignore even though we had several other targets in mind.  Soon, however, we decided to turn and re-trace our steps to the road, as at our birding pace it would probably have taken another three hours to carry on and complete the circuit!  Highlights among the many birds seen were Red-faced Cisticola, White-chinned Prinia, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Ashy and Dusky-blue Flycatchers, Olive-bellied Sunbird, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Yellow White-eye and Bronze Mannikin.  Among the primates, this was the only occasion that we saw Red Colobus.

The light was fading when we arrived back at Ndali Lodge.  After a quick shower, illuminated by oil lamps, we all enjoyed a drink before sitting down to an excellent meal.

Day 12: Wednesday, 2nd March

An astronomical telescope through which we were able to see Jupiter and its moons was a bit of a distraction this morning, but after an excellent cooked breakfast, we finally left Ndali Lodge at about 6.30am.

After a drive of less than an hour we arrived at Kibale National Park where we the morning was to be spent tracking Chimpanzees in the forest.  We set off with our guide, Ruth, stopping from time to time to listen for any sound of Chimps.  Considering how vocal they can often be, things were generally rather quiet and there was little clue as to the direction we should be headed.  Eventually, after about 45 minutes, we did get a brief look at a Chimp, but only one and he seemed in no mood to hang around for our benefit.

When we did occasionally hear Chimps, it always seemed as though the sound was coming from an area we had just walked through and more than once we turned and walked back.  It was clear that in spite of her six years experience tracking in this forest, this morning Ruth was struggling!  Eventually, after two hours of walking there was a burst of loud shrieking from not too far away and our guide was at last able to lead us to a small group of Chimps that were feeding on small fruits high above us in the top of a tree.  We stayed and watched for about an hour, although the views were mostly of the neck-straining variety.  The Chimps included at least one female on heat, but she didn’t seem to be attracting the attention one might have expected.  Just as we were about to leave, a couple of Chimps did descend to the ground and there was a good deal of commotion, which Ruth explained was a greeting to a newly arrived Chimp.

Birds in and around the forest took second place this morning and were largely ignored as we concentrated on finding the elusive Chimps, but we did have good looks at Western Black-headed Oriole and Red-capped Robin-Chat.  The sounds of Scaly-breasted Illadopsis and Red-chested Cuckoo could be heard regularly throughout.

We ate lunch at the Bigodi Womens Group Canteen and then left, just before 1.00pm, for the long drive to Semliki Safari Lodge.  After re-fuelling in Fort Portal there were few stops on the way and we arrived around 4.00pm.  Highlights of the journey were the spectacular scenery of the escarpment and a pair of Abyssinian Ground Hornbills, seen just after we had entered Semliki Wildlife reserve. 

It was noticeably hotter at Semliki and we spent an hour or so just cooling off and relaxing after our journey.  Birds around the lodge included Black-billed Barbet, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Palm-nut Vulture, Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike and Crowned Hornbills.

Later some of us went for a walk, first across the river into the forest and then, when that proved rather unproductive, a short way down the entrance road.  Amongst the birds seen were about 20 Senegal Lapwings, Steppe Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Northern Crombec, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Grey Woodpecker, Fawn-breasted Waxbills, Little and Red-headed Weavers.

Dinner was at 8.00pm.  As we ate, a spectacular thunderstorm built up with lightning lighting up the sky.  It became very windy for a while, scattering the contents of the lodge and it rained heavily.  For a while after our meal was finished we had little choice but to sit there.  Eventually, however, things did calm down and we were able to return to our tents without getting too wet.

Day 13: Thursday, 3rd March

The morning was to be devoted to a boat trip.  We left the lodge at just after 7.00am and Fred drove us to the village of Ntoroko on the shore of Lake Albert.  Last night’s rain had made the going a bit soft and on a couple of occasions it was necessary to engage the 4-wd.  Because we wanted to get on to the boat as early as possible, we didn’t stop much on the way, but we did see Abyssinian Ground Hornbills, Green Sandpipers, Woolly-necked Stork and Piapiacs.  Ntoroko turned out to be a filthy place, its population swelled with refugees from across the lake in DR Congo.  Marabou Storks were everywhere.

Our boat trip on the lake lasted about three hours.  We started by keeping close to the shore where we saw plenty of waders: Greenshank, Ruff, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilts and a Ringed Plover.  Eventually we reached a nesting colony of Red-throated Bee-eaters, which we watched for some time; the heads of several young birds could be seen popping out of the holes in the bank. 

After that we crossed open water for quite a way, until we reached an area where Shoebills have been regular in the past.  Unfortunately, there is much disturbance now on the lake with many refugees settling around the shore and lots more fishing boats.  There were plenty of African Jacanas and a few Common Moorhens and we managed to see both Lesser and Greater Swamp Warblers, but unfortunately any Shoebills that might have been here seem to have left the area.

We returned to Semliki Safari Lodge for lunch, when Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike and Arrow-marked Babblers were seen and afterwards we had fun watching and photographing a Chameleon.

Later we walked from the lodge to the airstrip, a couple of hours that produced African Hobby, two Black-and-white Cuckoos, Alpine and Eurasian Swifts, a dozen or more Broad-billed Rollers, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Red-headed Weaver and an African Goshawk.  The last of these was seen on the ground pursuing termites, a food source that we saw being exploited by several species while in Semliki.

Later still we went out in the lodge’s Land Cruiser to explore other areas of the reserve, a drive that produced Crested Guineafowl, Ross’s Turaco, Eastern Grey Plantain-eater and Saddle-billed Stork amongst others.  Not for the first time, we debated the identity of a cuckoo, but were unable to decide whether it was African or Common.  After enjoying traditional ‘sundowners’, we returned to the lodge in the dark, but there was disappointingly little in the way of night birds – just a White-faced Scops-Owl was heard.

Day 14: Friday, 4th March

A Chimpanzee study and habituation programme is being carried out in Semliki Wildlife Reserve and this morning after breakfast we drove out to the camp where it is based.  Although Chimps had been seen feeding nearby yesterday and there was the hope that they may return to the same fruiting trees, today we weren’t lucky and none were seen.

Before entering the forest, we walked through an area of grassland, where Croaking Cisticolas were identified among the many LBJs.  We also saw Diederik Cuckoo, but again found it difficult to decide between African and Common Cuckoos.

Once in the forest, we tried our luck trying to call up Leaf-love and Western Nicator.  Although more than one Leaf-love reacted quickly to the tape, they didn’t stay around for more than a few seconds and it was hard to get a proper look at them.  The Western Nicator, on the other hand, gave good views, although it was initially hard to locate because of its cryptic colouration.

It began to rain and as it was getting on towards lunchtime, we started to head back to the vehicle.  On the way, a juvenile African Wood Owl was found and as we focused on it, a parent bird flew from the same tree and out of sight. 

After lunch we drove out into the reserve, visiting some of the same areas that we had been to yesterday.  Once again we saw emerging termites providing a meal for Alpine and Eurasian Swifts and Red-throated Bee-eaters may also have been exploiting this same food source.  Two Striped Kingfishers were displaying and, as well as Black-and-white Cuckoo, we saw Common Cuckoo, managing to get close enough for a photograph and in spite of the poor light be sure about its identity.  Other highlights of the afternoon were a Red-cheeked Cordonbleu, a Saddle-billed Stork and a probable Steppe Eagle.

Much later, we were called from our beds to see a Rock Python that was slowly eating a Cane Rat.  We learned that the Cane Rat had been seen earlier in the day lying dead just outside the lodge and it wasn’t certain that the snake had killed it. 

Day 15: Saturday, 5th March

We started out early this morning for the long drive from Semliki Safari Lodge to Entebbe.  It was a largely uneventful journey with little opportunity to stop for any birding and we reached the Botanical Beach Hotel by mid-afternoon.  This time we were here only for an hour or so, an opportunity for a shower and a change of clothes, and then it was off to the airport for our flight home.

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