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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Uganda, July 15th - August 6th 2005,
During the summer of 2005, I went on a three week birding trip across Uganda with my girlfriend Cindy Van den Broeck. Below is some general information, a daily account of the trip, and a detailed list of bird observations made during the trip. If you have any questions or if you want more information, don’t hesitate to e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org
We flew from Brussels via Nairobi to Entebbe with SN Brussels Airlines, for 1007 EUR per person all-in (economy), a bit expensive if you ask me.
In Uganda, we used the services of Access Uganda Tours, run by Hassan Mutebi. Coordinates on the web are http://www.accessugandatours.com/, they are reachable via e-mail on email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
We based our choice of tour company on the available selection of trip reports on the web. Almost all birders use either Access Uganda Tours, owned by Mutebi Hassan, or Bird Uganda Safaris, owned by Herbert Byaruhanga. I composed the itinerary myself and asked for a price quote from both companies. Herbert’s best offer was 3900 USD per person, Hassan’s price which we accepted was 2980 USD per person. This included everything except drinks and tips, but I think we only spent about 50 EUR additionally per person during the entire trip.
On the whole, the service was quite good. The car was a 4 wheel drive Toyota Landcruiser, and our driver Joseph was a friendly chap. He accompanied us throughout (almost) the entire trip. He was familiar with the common birds and bird sounds throughout the country, and he also knew some stake-outs along the road for species such as Brown Twinspot, Dusky Twinspot, ... He didn’t score very high on more specialised birding skills, e.g. recognising cisticola’s or forest bird sounds, but he’ll get better over time.
The idea was that we would have a local site guide at every visited location; this was usually the case, but only in some cases did the local guide have a good knowledge of the local bird life. This cost us a few species, especially in the Royal Mile where we had no guide at all, so we had to work hard to find the forest species.
Here’s the itinerary that we agreed upon in advance with Hassan.
DAY ONE 15th Jul 05
Arrive at Entebbe international Airport and transfer to your Hotel overnight Flight Motel Entebbe.
DAY TWO 16th Jul 05
Morning drive to Mabamba swamp, take a hand-paddled boat in the swamp in search for the Shoebill Stork and a variety of water birds afternoon drive to Entebbe bird the botanical gardens in search for the Orange Weaver and a variety of other weavers, sunbirds e.t.c, evening drive to Kampala overnight Red Chillie hide away.
DAY THREE 17th Jul 05
Drive to Mabira forest birding all day for Shining blue Kingfisher, Greenbuls, Tit Hylia, Sunbirds, black-bellied Seed cracker, Forest Wood Hoopoes and many other forest birds overnight Mabira forest bandas
DAY FOUR 18th Jul 05
Morning bird Mabira for what we may have missed the previous day, afternoon drive to Masindi via Kampala birding enroute for the White-crested Turaco, overnight Nyabyeya forestry guest House.
DAY FIVE 19th Jul 05
Morning bird the Royal Mile for Cassin’s Hawk Eagle, Nahan’s Francolin, Chocolate-backed and Dwarf Kingfisher, Brown-backed Scrub- Robin, e.t.c afternoon bird the main road overnight Nyabyeya forestry college guesthouse.
DAY SIX 20th Jul 05
Early morning leave Budongo for Murchison Falls via Kaniyo pabidi birding for Puvell’s Illadopsis and a variety of forest birds, check in at Red Chillie rest camp for lunch after which drive to the top of the Falls for Pel’s Fishing Owl, Bat Hawk, Rock Prantincoles and a variety of Night Jars overnight Red Chilli rest camp.
DAY SEVEN 21st Jul 05
Morning cross with a ferry to the Northern Bank for a morning game drive to the delta for the Shoebill Stork and a variety of water birds and for game viewing here we have a chance to see the Lion, Leopard, Giraffes, Oribis, Uganda Kobs, Hartebeests, Buffaloes, Elephants, Dik diks and many others afternoon go for a boat ride to the bottom of the falls to view the magnificent falls at a close range, a variety of water birds, Schools of Hippos and crocodiles overnight Red chilli rest camp.
DAY EIGHT 22nd Jul 05
Second day morning and afternoon game drive for what we may have missed the previous day overnight Red Chilli Rest camp.
DAY NINE 23rd Jul 05
In the morning drive Kibaale via the Butiaba escarpment birding for Foxy Cisticola, Cliff chats overnight Chimpanzee guest House.
DAY TEN 24th Jul 05
Morning chimp tracking and birding Kibaale Forest for the Green-breasted Pittas, White-napped Pigeon and a variety of forest species afternoon swamp walk for papyrus endemics and a variety of primates overnight Chimpanzee Guest house.
DAY ELEVEN 25th Jul 05
Morning bird the forest west of Fort portal for a variety of forest species afternoon drive to Queen Elizabeth NP birding enroute overnight Institute of ecology guest house.
DAY TWELVE 26th Jul 05
Morning game drive through the Kasenyi track and Kob mating grounds in search for savanna birds like the Temminck’s Courser, Martial Eagle, Rupell’s Griffon Vulture e.t.c, and mammals like the lions, Elephants, Buffalo, Hyena, Giant Forest Hogs, and other game afternoon boat ride on Kazinga Channel believed to host the largest concentration of Hippos in Africa, a variety of migrant birds, Crocodiles overnight Institute of ecology guest house.
DAY THIRTEEN 27th Jul 05
Early in the morning transfer to Maramagambo forest birding the whole day for yellow Bellied Wattle-eye and a variety of forest birds overnight Jacana lodge.
DAY FOURTEEN 28th Jul 05
Drive to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park birding enroute, via Ishasha sector of the park for a game drive in search for tree climbing Lions a variety of Raptors and other savanna birds overnight Bwindi View camp.
DAY FIFTEEN 29th Jul 05
Bird Buhoma main trail for Handsome Francolin, Rufous-chested Fluff tail, Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Red-chested Owlet, Neumann’s Warbler and many other birds overnight Bwindi view camp.
DAY SIXTEEN 30th Jul 05
Second day birding Buhoma for what we may have missed the previous day evening farm walk in search for the Bat Hawk incase we missed it overnight Bwindi view camp
DAY SEVENTEEN 31st Jul 05
Drive to Ruhizha birding the “Neck” for Black Bee-eaters, Bronze Napped Pigeon, Many coloured Bush shrike and many others overnight Institute Guest House.
DAY EIGHTEEN 1st Aug 05
Trek to Mubwindi swamp for the Green Broadbill, Grauer’s Rush Warbler, Purple-breasted, Blue headed and Regal Sunbirds overnight Institute guest house.
DAY NINETEEN 2nd Aug 05
Transfer to Kisoro birding the Bamboo zone enroute overnight Traveler’s Rest Kisoro
DAY TWENTY 3rd Aug 05
Morning bird Mgahinga for Rwenzori Turaco, Prigogine’s Sunbird, Kivu ground Thrush, Stripe-breasted Tit, Shelly’s Crimson wing, Rwenzori Batis to mention but a few evening bird L. Kyahasi for a variety of water birds overnight Traveler’s rest Kisoro.
DAY TWENTY ONE 4th Aug 05
Early in the morning transfer to L. Mburo NP, birding enroute overnight Rwonyo tented camp.
DAY TWENTY TWO 5th Aug 05
Morning game drive birding the grassland for the Brown-Chested Plover, Red-faced Barbet, Violet Tipped Courser together with many other birds and animals like the Zebra, Topis, Impalas, Elands and Buffalos drive to Kampala birding enroute e.g. at Kaaku swamp for Lesser Jacana, Lesser Moorhen, Rufous-bellied Heron and many other water birds, continue to Entebbe Airport for your flight, end of services.
* * * * *
In hindsight, I would have liked to have more time in Budongo to get the most out of the Royal Mile and the surrounding farmland. Also I would skip the chimp track in Kibale – this was rather boring, and the extra birding time would surely have produced a few extra species.
The visit to the Jacana lodge and the nearby Maramagambo Forest was also not very productive and rather expensive. And an extra day in Buhoma would have been useful – 2 full days on the trail should be sufficient, but we only had 1.5 days.
Literature and preparation
We used the following books in preparation of, and during the trip.
Birds of East Africa – Stevenson & Fanshawe
Where to watch birds in Uganda – Rossouw & Sacchi
Footprint Uganda Handbook – Hodd & Roche
The following trip reports were consulted frequently:
Uganda, 5th-26th August 2002, Sam Woods
Uganda, July 2002, Jan Vermeulen
Rwanda & Uganda Birding Trip, Dave Sargeant & Nigel Moorhouse
Birding Trip to Uganda, Jan 12 – Feb 6, 2004, Paul Prevett
Uganda Birding, 25 July – 17 August 2001, Jon Hornbuckle
Uganda, 14th July – 5th August 2004, Phil Benstead
The following sound collections were used:
Oiseaux d’Afrique, C. Chapuis – 15 CD set
Southern African Birds Sounds, G. Gibbon – 6 CD set
+ a collection of various bird sounds from different sources
Playback equipment was an Apple iPod mini 4GB with Sony SRS-T55 speakers.
Recording equipment was a Sennheiser directional microphone in combination with a Sony tape recorder (walkman type).
Note that access to electricity (220V, UK-style plug) is not at all
guaranteed in Uganda, especially outside the larger cities. Often there
are no power lines, so lodges or hotels need to have a generator in
order to produce their own power. Usually they only switch the generator
on for a few hours in the evening.
In Bwindi and Ruhija, we did not have electricity for 5 days in a row. Since the iPod mini does not have a replaceable battery, this was a real problem, but I managed to charge it twice, once in an internet café near Buhoma, and again in a research centre near Ruhija (walking down from the guest house in the direction of the Neck, take the second turnoff to the right).
… go to Mark Van Beirs for providing invaluable information that was extremely useful when planning the trip; to Hans Matheve, Filip Verbelen en Bernard Van Elegem for providing me with useful bird sounds; to David Van den Schoor for lending me a few books on birds and mammals; and to the authors of trip reports of previous Uganda trips (see the literature section).
July 16th – Mabamba swamp, Entebbe Botanical Gardens
Our flight and arrival was pretty uneventful, so let’s jump straight to the first birding highlight of the trip, the visit to the Mabamba swamp. We were taken on a rather short trip through the swamp and saw 2 Shoebills within minutes. They were rather approachable, we got as close as 20m, so we got excellent views of this impressive bird. Other noteworthy observations from the boat were a pair of African Pygmy-Goose, 2 fly-by Spur-winged Geese, Long-toed Lapwing, lots of Blue-breasted Bee-eaters, Gray-rumped Swallow, poor views of Greater Swamp-Warbler, Slender-billed Weaver and a glimpse of a Spot-necked Otter. A walk along the shore produced the first Lizard Buzzard, African Pygmy-Kingfisher (found by Cindy), Madagascar Bee-eater, Great Blue Turaco and Plain-backed Pipit of the rufous subspecies zenkeri. Along the road on the way out, we saw an Ayres’ Hawk-Eagle overhead.
The Entebbe Botanical Gardens provided our first looks at some common species. In hindsight, the best birds we saw there were Orange Weaver (in lakeside vegetation), African Openbill and Yellow-throated Greenbul.
En route to the Red Chilli Hideaway in Kampala where we spent the night, we saw lots of Marabou Storks, Pied Crows and Hooded Vultures. The garden of the hotel produced a fly-by calling male African Goshawk.
July 17th – Mabira Forest
We left for Mabira Forest in the early morning, it is situated about an hour east of Kampala. We first birded the parking area and the HQ, where we saw Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Green Crombec, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Black-throated Apalis, a female Black-and-white Shrike-Flycatcher, Black-headed Paradise-Flycatcher, and Blue-throated Brown Sunbird, amongst other birds. Then Ibrahim, the local bird guide, showed up and guided us around. He first showed us Magpie Mannikin in the village by the HQ, and then he took us to a trail about 5km away along the main road. Ibrahim knew his birds well, so the walk was very productive. Highlights were brilliant views of a taped-in White-spotted Flufftail, a soaring Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle, a fly-by Sabine’s Spinetail, several Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoos including a perched individual at eye-level, Blue-throated Roller, a taped-in Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, a pair of Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrikes, White-throated Greenbul, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Yellow Longbill, a pair of African Shrike-Flycatchers, Dusky Tit, Gray-headed, Green and Green-headed Sunbird, Black-bellied Seedcracker, Red-headed Bluebill and the best bird of the day, an unexpected Tit-Hylia high up in the canopy of a dead tree. Additionally, we heard Gray Longbill, Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat, and Nahan’s Francolin just next to the trail – unfortunately I didn’t manage to see them.
During lunch break, I watched some more birds around the bandas and the HQ, which produced our first Gray-green Bush-shrike and another male Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrike. After lunch, Ibrahim took us to another trail (again reached from the main road), with good results once again: 2 or 3 flocks of Forest Woodhoopoe, Red-tailed Greenbul, Fire-crested Alethe, another singing Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat that refused to respond, a disappointingly heard-only Jameson’s Wattle-eye, reasonable views of a Sooty Boubou, some Weyns’ Weavers, and Red-headed Malimbe.
A small pond was being used as a drinking place at dusk by several passerines – we saw our first Common Bristlebill there, as well as our only Brown-chested Alethe of the trip. In a nearby tree a Velvet-mantled Drongo was nesting, and a female Superb Sunbird briefly showed.
We spent the night in a local banda – no electricity, no bathroom.
July 18th – Mabira Forest, drive to Budongo
This morning Ibrahim took us around the camping area and along a few trails close to the HQ. Best birds were Black Cuckoo (the gabonensis subspecies which isn’t quite black), several Buff-spotted Woodpeckers, another Common Bristlebill seen (and more heard), Yellow-spotted Nicator, Olive-green Camaroptera, great views of a Forest Robin (beautiful!), a female Blue-throated Brown Sunbird on the nest, Green-throated Sunbird, Purple-headed Glossy-Starling, and another Red-headed Bluebill.
Around 11AM, we left Mabira and started the long drive to Budongo. Roadside birds were plenty, but they were all common species. Towards the end of the journey, along the last stretch of road towards and beyond Masindi, the roadside birds became more interesting, with sightings of White-headed Barbet, African Hawk-Eagle, Piapiac, Moustached Grass-Warbler, and Marsh Tchagra.
We stayed at the Nyabyeya forestry guest house, where we saw some White-thighed Hornbills (locally common), a fly-by Black Goshawk, and 2 taped-in White-crested Turacos just behind the guest house.
July 19th – The Royal Mile, roadside forest at Busingiro
We birded the farmland along the road to the Royal Mile first, producing another Black Goshawk, 3 Brown Twinspots which were unfortunately only seen in flight, Black Bishop, Red-headed Quelea, Copper Sunbird and Compact Weaver. Along the Royal Mile, we obtained excellent views of many Dwarf Kingfishers, and we also saw Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Narina Trogon, Golden-crowned Woodpecker, a single Spotted Greenbul, Red-tailed Greenbul, Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Black-headed Paradise-Flycatcher, Little Green Sunbird, Green Sunbird, both Negrofinches and Western Black-headed Oriole. Additionally, we heard Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, African Emerald Cuckoo, Toro Olive-Greenbul, Red-tailed Ant-Thrush, Gray Longbill, Forest Robin, and Scaly-breasted Illadopsis.
We were rather unlucky that the local bird guide was unavailable on the morning of our visit. We missed a few species due to this, because the list of target species was long and we were unfamiliar with the local bird calls.
In the afternoon, we went to a pond near the main road that supports a pair of Shining-Blue Kingfishers. Immediately after our arrival, we saw a medium-sized blue kingfisher flying off – this was most probably a Shining-Blue, but views were insufficient to be sure of the determination. We did get nice fly-by views of both Blue-breasted and Chocolate-backed Kingfisher thought.
The roadside forest at Busingiro was quite good. Most important observations were another Dwarf Kingfisher, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, excellent views of Rufous-crowned Eremomela in response to proactive tape playback, a Green Crombec, Sooty Flycatcher, a small flock of Chestnut-capped Flycatchers, and another Green Sunbird.
The Black Goshawk flew past the guest house again around 7 PM, and a Black-shouldered Nightjar was calling – it started to rain though so we didn’t go after it.
July 20th – Kanyio Pabidi, Murchison Falls
We left the guest house early in order to be at Kanyio Pabidi before 8AM, to maximise our chances to see Puvel’s Illadopsis. When we arrived, they were not calling, but the local guide took us straight to the best spot, and we subsequently saw 2 birds after a short period of tape playback. After scoring the target bird, we went for a relaxed walk in the forest, which produced 2 Buff-spotted Woodpeckers, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, poor views of 2 Honeyguide Greenbuls, excellent views of Red-tailed Ant-Thrush, a flushed White-tailed Ant-Thrush, and heard-only observations of Fire-crested Alethe, Forest Robin, Green Hylia, Gray-throated Tit-Flycatcher, Common Bristlebill, Narina Trogon, Chocolate-backed and Blue-breasted Kingfisher and Yellowbill. The Rufous-side Broadbill refused to respond, despite serious effort.
We then proceeded towards Murchison Falls NP, birding en route, although we didn’t stop very often in order not to be eaten by tsetse flies which were particularly common along this stretch of road. We saw a few birds en route (Saddle-billed Stork with a youngster, Brown Snake-Eagle, Gray Kestrel, Spot-flanked Barbet, Pale Flycatcher, Compact Weaver, Baglafecht Weaver, …), and unfortunately we found one or two dead Pennant-winged Nightjars, killed by speeding night traffic. By lunch time, we reached the Red Chilli restcamp, which is situated on the south side of the Nile, close to the Paraa ferry crossing. Red Chilli camp was actually a very pleasant place to stay, with lots of birds in and around the camp, good food, and reasonably priced accomodation – considering that the alternative is the luxurious Paraa lodge at the other side of the Nile.
Around the camp we saw Marabou Stork, Red-throated Bee-eater, Silverbird, Beautiful Sunbird, Black-headed Gonolek, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Golden-backed Weaver and White-rumped Seedeater.
After lunch, we drove towards the top of the falls, and went for a walk along the (hot and steep) trail that leads to the bottom of the falls. We were lucky to flush a roosting Pel’s Fishing-Owl in the riverine woodland – they are regularly seen there, but they tend to be rather hard to find. It flew for a short distance and then landed again in rather thick foliage, so views were not so great. After about a minute, it flew off. Other birds recorded there were White-crested Turaco (heard), Gray Woodpecker, Darter and Rock Pratincole (best seen from the short walk that takes you close to the falls). At dusk, the Bat Falcon did not appear, but Gray Kestrel was hunting for bats instead, also a fly-by Giant Kingfisher.
The return drive to Red Chilli restcamp was very good for night birds. We saw about 5 Long-tailed Nightjars, at least 15 Pennant-winged Nightjars, and a few smaller nightjars, one of which was definitely a Square-tailed Nightjar. Also 3 Grayish Eagle-Owls were seen very well, plus a few more seen in flight from a distance.
July 21st –Murchison Falls – game drive north of the Nile and boat trip to the bottom of the falls
We took the 7AM ferry and went on a game drive that leads towards the Nile delta. The jeep was conveniently equipped with a “safari” roof that could be lifted, allowing us to stand up in the jeep (in the shade!) and scan for birds and mammals from an elevated position.
The drive was very productive indeed. Highlights included Dark Chanting-Goshawk, Tawny Eagle, Heuglin’s Francolin, a flushed Small Buttonquail, a pair of Stanley Bustard, a few Black-bellied Bustards, a flock of Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, Abyssinian Ground-Hornbill, Black-billed Barbet, Double-toothed Barbet, Brown-backed Scrub-Robin, Piapiac, Shelley’s Rufous Sparrow, White-browed and Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Red-headed Quelea, and last but not least, a splendid observation of a Leopard that was resting in a tree. Other game included Giraffe, Elephant, Uganda Kob, Buffalo, Warthog, …
Along the Nile delta, we saw a good variety of waterbirds. Some of the more interesting species were Goliath Heron, Saddle-billed Stork, Sacred Ibis, some Water Thick-knees, one Senegal Thick-knee, Long-toed Lapwing, over 5 pairs of Black-headed Lapwing, and Vinaceous Dove.
We returned for lunch to Red Chili and birded some more around the camp, and saw Buff-bellied Warbler, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Bar-breasted Firefinch, Red-winged Gray Warbler (responding to proactive tape playback), and quite a few Spotted Morning-Thrushes.
Later in the afternoon, we went on a boat trip to the bottom of the falls (best to sit on the lefthand side). This produced the usual waterbirds, close-up views of Rock Pratincole just below the falls, lots of Hippos and a herd of Elephants. Other birds worth mentioning were a soaring African Harrier-Hawk, Blue-headed Coucal, lots of Red-throated Bee-eaters, 2 perched Giant Kingfishers, Wire-tailed Swallow and Yellow-billed Oxpecker.
July 22nd –Murchison Falls – game drive north of the Nile, roadside birding south of the Nile
We basically repeated the game drive from the day before, but this time we were accompanied by George, a local ranger and a splendid bird guide. Even though we covered pretty much the same area, we managed to see quite a few new birds nevertheless. Highlights included 2 Black Scimitarbills, no less than 4 perched Shoebills (including one immature) along the Nile, one Spot-flanked and several Black-billed Barbets, Glossy Ibis, Comb Duck, Gabar Goshawk in a fight with a Red-necked Falcon, close-up views of a perched Martial Eagle, Gray Kestrel, Gray-crowned Crane, Senegal Coucal, another Blue-headed Coucal taped in in a papyrus section (with more coucals spec. seen in transitional savannah-wetland habitat), Nubian Woodpecker, Gray-capped Warbler, Brown Babbler, Black-rumped Waxbill and several Vinaceous Doves. We taped in one Vinaceous Dove that was calling - they are in fact common, according to George, who also pointed out that Ring-necked Dove does not occur in the savannah habitat of MFNP, which makes determination fairly trivial. Finally, we spotted a male Northern Puffback in the lone tree by the ferry (north side).
After lunch, we first went for a walk in the vicinity of Red Chili. This produced a large flock of all-dark medium-sized swifts (African or Eurasian), 3 Northern Crombecs, and 2 more Martial Eagles. In late afternoon, we went for a drive in the section south of the Nile – basically we drove along the road back towards Masindi, and took a right turn towards an airstrip. Along the first stretch, we saw a flock of c7 Yellow-billed Shrikes, a Shikra, Copper Sunbird, and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird. During a roadside stop just after the turnoff, we flushed a roosting Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, which luckily perched in the open for about 10 minutes. Not only did the owl allow excellent views, but its presence also caused quite a stir among the birds in its vicinity, and the mobbing flock surprisingly contained 2 excellent species, Green-backed Eremomela and a Yellow-bellied Hyliota. In the same area, we also saw a third Black Scimitarbill. In the vicinity of the airstrip, we recorded a Black Coucal, unfortunately only in flight, and several Moustached Grass-Warblers.
July 23rd –drive from Murchison Falls to Kibale via Butiaba escarpment
We had to cover a large distance today, so we mainly birded from the car. It was raining at the Butiaba escarpment, but we scored a Mocking Cliff-Chat quickly (a singing male on the side of the road). Foxy Cisticola proved to be a little more difficult, but after I explained to my girlfriend that we were looking for a small rufous bird, it took her about 5 seconds to find one. I saw it in flight, but we couldn’t find it again, so Cindy found a second individual further down the road, which did allow good views. Mission accomplished, so we quickly set course for better weather conditions.
Noteworthy roadside observations this day were the only African Hobby of the trip near Fort Portal, Ross’ Turaco, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater (near Kibale), White-throated Bee-eater, Double-toothed Barbet, my first (poor) views of a Yellow-billed Barbet, Chubb’s Cisticola, Cassin’s Flycatcher (on a river near Kibale), Black-and-white Shrike-Flycatcher, Bronze Sunbird, and a Papyrus Gonolek taped in at a roadside papyrus swamp.
We stayed at the Chimpansee guest house, which was pretty ok. No electricity in the room, but there were charging opportunities in the house itself.
July 24th –Kibale HQ area (including chimp track), Bigodi swamp
We had booked a chimp track this morning (50 USD pp), which I don’t really recommend unless you’re really interested in monkeys. We saw one chimp really well as it was feeding on fruits in a tree, and we also had poor views of another one on the ground (running away from us). The pace of the walk was pretty high, there was no time for birding whatsoever, so it was mostly a frustrating experience for me. I could have used the extra birding time to scan for White-naped Pigeon or to look for Masked Apalis, the two most notable dips at this location.
It wasn’t all bad, of course. Red-tailed Ant-Thrushes on the road in the early morning, Black-billed Turaco (bad views though), Buff-spotted Woodpecker, heard-only Toro Olive-Greenbul, Green Crombec, excellent views of a Brown Illadopsis in the carpark, and Purple-headed Glossy-Starling.
We had lunch at the HQ, and birded the Bigodi swamp in the afternoon with a local guide. It’s quite a long walk (maybe 6 km) and you only reach the papyrus section past halfway, so don’t leave too late – we started around 3PM and finished just before dusk. Best birds were the papyrus endemics (brief but convincing views with the naked eye of a White-winged Warbler 3 meters away, 3 White-collared Olivebacks, and heard-only Papyrus Gonolek), but the trail was also good for “ordinary” birds, such as African Marsh-Harrier, African Harrier-Hawk, Gray Parrot (fantastic views of a bird at eye-level less than 10m away), Black-billed Turaco (a tape-responsive individual, so we saw it well both in flight and perched), Yellow-billed Barbet (good views at last), Brown-eared Woodpecker in the papyrus section, Gray Greenbul, Red-faced Cisticola, White-chinned Prinia, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Black-and-white Shrike-Flycatcher, Black-headed Paradise-Flycatcher, and Red-headed Malimbe. Great views of a Pofadder too – although Cindy was less happy with that observation.
July 25th –Kibale HQ area, search for Green-breasted Pitta, drive to QENP
The rangers at Kibale told us that they had seen Green-breasted Pitta 4 days before our visit, so I wanted to make a proper attempt to find this great bird. We first birded along the road and in the HQ area however, as it was still too dark in the forest interior in the early morning. We got another Cassin’s Flycatcher, a Blue-breasted Kingfisher and a splendid male Superb Sunbird by the river, a Yellow-spotted Nicator, and a small flock of Narrow-tailed Starlings was nesting in a dead tree along the road.
At the Pitta site, we saw the (apparently unfinished) nest of the bird, but there was no sign of the grail bird itself. We spent about 2 hours birding the area, which produced Green Hylia, Scaly-breasted Illadopsis (seen, at last), Western Black-headed Oriole, and a flock of Crested Guineafowl.
In the afternoon, we set course for Queen Elizabeth National Park, birding along the way. Best birds were Great White Pelican, Yellow-billed Stork, a pair of Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike along the access road to Mweya, Black-lored Babbler, and Golden-breasted Bunting. Around Mweya, and around the Institute of ecology guest house where we were staying just next door, Black-headed and Slender-billed Weavers were common, as well as Swamp Flycatcher, Red-chested and Scarlet-chested Sunbird.
The guest house is pretty dirty, the restaurant is very slow, and no guarantees about the electricity, but the alternative is Mweya lodge which costs about 200 USD per night.
July 26th –Game drive, Mweya peninsula, and boat trip on Kazinga channel
In the morning we went for a game drive in the park, which was all in all somewhat disappointing. Best birds were Black-breasted Snake-Eagle, Small Buttonquail on the road (unfortunately flushed before seeing it through the bins), and Long-billed and Jackson’s Pipit seen together, allowing a nice comparison. We also saw the usual game (Elephant, Kob, Giraffe, etc) but nothing spectacular.
After lunch, we went for a walk around the Mweya airstrip, and got 2 Brown-chested Lapwings, White-backed Vulture, Collared Pratincole, Red-capped Lark, African Pipit (apparently they occur together with Jackson’s Pipit), a Gray-capped Warbler at close range by the Mweya lodge, Arrow-marked Babbler and Green-headed Sunbird.
The boat trip on the Kazinga channel (sit on the left hand side again) was nice – there was a flock of about 200 African Skimmers, plus the usual waterbirds, a single Three-banded Plover, Marsh, Green, Wood and Common Sandpiper, Gray-headed Gull, Plain Martin, and Lesser Swamp-Warbler in the reeds at the jetty where the boat departs.
Overnight at the guest house at Mweya again.
July 27th – Drive to, and surroundings of, Jacana lodge
We had booked a night at Jacana lodge in order to be able to visit Maramagambo Forest early the next day. In hindsight, this day could have been better spent elsewhere, as we arrived at the lodge rather early (10 AM) and weren’t able to do much birding for the rest of the day. This worked out pretty well for Cindy though who really enjoyed the only luxurious day of the trip. I must admit that I enjoyed the swimming pool and the kingsize bed also.
Anyway, the day started off good with a male Lion lying just next to the road in the early morning. Birds en route included another African Harrier-Hawk, again Small Buttonquail on the road, a Bare-faced Go-away-bird (actually outside the park), Holub’s Golden-Weaver, Nubian Woodpecker, and at a large papyrus swamp we saw another Papyrus Gonolek. I tried for Carruther’s Cisticola but gave up quickly as we were soon surrounded by a swarm of local children (which happens quite often if you make a random roadside stop in Uganda).
Along the access road towards the Jacana lodge, we saw Ross’ Turaco, Narina Trogon, White-tailed Lark, several Moustached Grass-Warblers, Purple-banded and Variable Sunbird, Marsh Tchagra, and Trilling Cisticola. We didn’t see the local all-black Paradise-Flycatcher spec., which is believed by some to be a melanistic population of African Paradise-Flycatcher, and by others to be a range extension of the Congolese endemic Bedford’s Paradise-Flycatcher.
At the lodge itself, the target bird is Shining-blue Kingfisher, which is frequently seen near the swimming pool. After one or two fly-by appearances, I found one individual perched in a lakeside bush, allowing excellent views. Also a pair of Ayres’ Hawk-Eagles appeared, soaring above the crater lake. A walk back along the access road produced the first Black Bee-eater of the trip, as well as Black Cuckoo-shrike, Tropical Boubou, and 3 more Shining-blue Kingfishers along an inlet of the crater lake.
July 28th – Maramagambo Forest, drive to Buhoma via Ishasha (QENP)
The day started off well with a Plain Greenbul seen very well during breakfast at Jacana lodge. The locals had told us that they were around, and indeed, I suddenly saw a medium-sized greenbul hopping by in a nearby tree, which turned out to be this species – eye-ring and contrasting throat were seen well.
The visit to Maramagambo Forest was rather disappointing – the weather was not so great, and the local ranger was not really a bird guide, which made finding good birds rather difficult. Best birds were Brown Illadopsis (heard along the access road), 2 Brown-eared Woodpeckers, and great views of a White-tailed Ant-Thrush. No sign of Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye though, the local target bird. The trail through the forest leads past a bat cave which is rather impressive (the smell!) – the guide also pointed out a huge Python that lives in the cave and feasts on the bats obviously.
In the afternoon, we drove to Bwindi via the Ishasha road. It had rained rather heavily recently, so the road was pretty bad. As a result, we encountered several huge Congolese trucks (which use this road as a shortcut) that got stuck in the mud.
Best birds along the way were a young Gabar Goshawk that was sitting on the road right in front of the car for a few minutes, Black-bellied Bustard, Madagascar Bee-eater, Yellow-spotted Nicator, Red-tailed Greenbul, Stout and Siffling Cisticola, and Compact Weaver.
In the Ishasha sector itself, we saw a Lioness in a tree – a specialty of the local Lion population, apparently – and also White-headed Barbet and Lappet-faced Vulture. Scanning the burnt grassland was successful as we found one more Brown-chested Lapwing and a pair of Temminck’s Courser. The campsite on the Congolese border held another Black Bee-eater.
We reached Buhoma at dusk and spent the night in the Bwindi View bandas – pretty basic, dirty toilets and showers, no electricity, but clean rooms. We spent the next 3 nights here, and because the battery of my iPod only lasts about 2 days, Joseph kindly took it to a local internet café to recharge it.
July 29th – Buhoma main trail
We had some difficulty obtaining a bird guide and rangers to accompany us, so we left a little bit later than I had hoped for. Joseph was trying to arrange Levi, who had been recommended to us, as our guide, but he was unavailable, so we went with Saul, who turned out to be the best bird guide of the trip. Saul knew all the sounds and stakeouts, and he searched hard to show us as many birds as possible. We did have to pay extra for his services (40 USD) as this was not included in the itinerary, but we were very happy to have him.
Buhoma offered excellent birding, the day was one of many highlights. Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Bar-tailed Trogon, Black Bee-eater, Blue-throated Roller, Tullberg’s and Elliott’s Woodpecker, Petit’s Cuckoo-shrike, Shelley’s Greenbul (easily recognised by their woodpecker-like behaviour), Ansorge’s Greenbul (picked up on call by Saul, but we got great scope views), Banded Prinia, Black-faced Apalis, Gray Apalis, Black-faced Rufous WarblerWhite-browed Crombec, Red-faced Woodland-Warbler, White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher, Yellow-eyed Black-Flycatcher, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Equatorial Akalat, White-bellied Robin-Chat, Ruwenzori Batis, White-bellied Crested-Flycatcher, Mountain Illadopsis (poor views though), Blue-headed Sunbird, Pink-footed Puffback, Luehder’s Bushshrike, Stuhlmann’s Starling, Black-billed and Brown-capped Weaver, Thick-billed Seedeater, and unfortunately heard-only observations of Grauer’s Warbler, Neumann’s Warbler, Black-tailed Oriole and Red-throated Alethe. Kivu Ground-Thrush and Red-chested Owlet refused to respond.
Back in the village, we saw our first White-tailed Blue-Flycatchers by the ranger station. Both Green-throated and Green-headed Sunbirds are common around the bandas.
July 30th – Buhoma main trail, visit to nearby farm
Today we went up the trail again, this time accompanied by Levi after all. Despite the fact that he had been recommended to us by other birders, his performance was a bit disappointing. He had difficulty identifying certain sounds, and he wasn’t very good at finding birds either; as a result, the day was less productive than the day before.
We still got a few new birds today though: Bronze-naped Pigeon, Willcock’s Honeyguide (2 birds with no obvious malar or loral stripes, responding well to tape playback of this species), African Broadbill (a pair responding to proactive tape playback), and great views of Red-throated Alethe. We heard Neumann’s Warbler again, but I think the individuals along the trail have become used to tapes, they refused to respond. One brief and frustrating observation of an all-yellow bird with a black head in a flock must have been an Oriole Finch, but I couldn’t clinch the ID.
Late afternoon we paid a visit to a nearby farm where there is a nest of Bat Hawk. We saw one adult and one fully grown juvenile. Other good observations were Red-chested Flufftail (calling from a nearby swamp, taped in but offering only glimpses), Blue-headed Coucal, Double-toothed Barbet, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Mackinnon’s Shrike, Holub’s Golden-weaver, and Black-and-white Mannikin.
Around the bandas, we saw a Yellow-throated Greenbul, only the second of the trip.
July 31th – En route from Buhoma to Ruhija via The Neck
Today we drove to Ruhija via The Neck. Roadside birds before reaching The Neck included Augur Buzzard, White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher, Northern Puffback, Mountain Wagtail, Yellow-throated Greenbul and a surprise Golden-breasted Bunting.
The forest at The Neck produced another Ayres’ Hawk-Eagle, Bronze-naped Pigeon, Narina Trogon, Black and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Elliot’s Woodpecker, good views of Honeyguide Greenbul at last, Red-throated Alethe, Gray Apalis, African Shrike-Flycatcher and Red-headed Malimbe.
At a roadside stop along the last stretch of road towards Ruhija, we saw a pair of Dusky Twinspots – they prefer dry fern vegetation.
We arrived at the guest house in the early afternoon. After settling in, we went for a walk down the road, back in the direction of the Neck, and we walked up to the nearby research centre to charge the iPod (it’s the only place in the neighbourhood that has electricity). Afterwards we also birded the “school trail” – this is the first trail on the right hand side if you walk down from the guest house in the direction of The Neck.
Along the way, we observed several Gray Cuckoo-shrikes, Chinspot Batis, a few Yellow-streaked Bulbuls (easily recognised by its peculiar, slow-moving behaviour), Chestnut-throated Apalis (with typical telephone-like call), African Hill Babbler (along the school trail), Stripe-breasted Tit, Regal Sunbird, and excellent views of Black-tailed Oriole. We also saw a small honeyguide spec. which was either a Least or a Dwarf.
After nightfall we went out to look for African Wood-Owl, with instant success (near the school trail turnoff). About an hour later, we saw a second individual in the tree behind the guest house. No sign of Montane Nightjar though, Joseph thinks they might have disappeared from Ruhija because traffic on the road has significantly increased recently.
The guest house has no electricity but it does have beds and a cosy fireplace. There is also no restaurant there, but Joseph had arranged a cook for us who made really good food.
August 1st – Mubwindi swamp trail, school trail
The weather was rather poor this morning, it didn’t rain but there was a lot of wind, so birding conditions were not so great. We had chartered Levi again for the occasion (I tried to get Saul instead but he was busy unfortunately).
On the way down to the swamp, birding was very slow because of the wind – but once we reached the swamp, we saw lots of birds in a short period of time. We immediately saw the breeding Grauer’s Broadbills – one juvenile was just visible inside the nest, and the parent birds were constantly feeding the youngster, so we got great scope views. An Archer’s Robin-Chat was singing as we arrived, but I wanted to get good views of the Broadbills first so I didn’t immediately tape it in. Big mistake, because after a short while, the Robin-Chat stopped singing and we didn’t get to see one at all. Other good birds were Eastern Mountain-Greenbul, Grauer’s Scrub-Warbler (mostly flight views of 3 birds in the swamp), Strange Weaver, Ruwenzori Apalis, and Black-headed Waxbill.
After yet another frustrating fly-by view of a honeyguide spec. (probably Dwarf), we slowly started to walk back up the trail, which is really steep in some places, but well doable overall. We heard a Handsome Francolin, and saw Bar-tailed Trogon, White-headed Woodhoopoe, Waller’s and Stuhlmann’s Starling, and Luehder’s Bushshrike.
We arrived back at the guest house mid afternoon, and after lunch we went for another walk along the school trail. Levi said that this was a good spot for Doherty’s Bushshrike, and indeed we saw one within seconds after playing the sound – arguably the best-looking bird of the trip. The trail was very birdy, with lots of African Yellow White-eyes, but also another African Hill Babbler and a Red-capped Robin-Chat.
August 2nd – Ruhija bamboo zone, birding en route to Kisoro
Today was very sunny, and there was a lot of bird activity along the road towards the bamboo zone. At a first roadside stop, we saw our first definite Rameron Pigeons. Joseph thought he had seen a Western Tinkerbird, and he was right because we saw 2 birds really well just after playing their call. Other good birds before reaching the bamboo zone were Cinnamon Bracken-Warbler, Mountain Yellow Warbler, White-starred Robin, another Doherty’s Bushshrike, and more Black-headed Waxbills.
Further down the road, we went for a walk through a thick bamboo stand, where we saw a Mountain Sooty Boubou, but unfortunately only heard a Gray-chested Illadopsis and Handsome Francolin.
We then continued our journey towards Kisoro, and scored a last minute Albertine Rift Endemic – a beautiful male Dusky Crimsonwing, approximately 100 meters before the forest edge !
The road to Kisoro was long and dusty, and produced few new birds, Hottentot Teal and Yellow-bellied Waxbill being the most notable. A roadside stop at Lake Bunyoni offered a surprising male Papyrus Canary, as well as superb views of Greater Swamp-Warbler and a Spot-necked Otter.
We arrived at the Travellers Rest in Kisoro around 3PM and didn’t do much birding for the rest of the day.
August 3rd – Mgahinga, Lake Kyahasi near Kisoro
A walk through the Mgahinga reserve produced the two expected target birds – Stuhlmann’s Sunbird and 2 Ruwenzori Turacos – as well as Olive Woodpecker, several Dusky Turtle-Doves, more Rameron Pigeons, another Western Tinkerbird, a surprise Red-throated Alethe in a bamboo stand, several heard-only Cinnamon Bracken-Warblers, and Variable Sunbird (rather difficult plumage, but the red patch on the belly seemed to be diagnostic).
In the afternoon we paid a visit to Lake Kyahasi, a wetland not so far from Kisoro. En route to the lake, we spotted 3 huge, all-dark and therefore Mottled Swifts. At the lake itself, we finally saw a pair of Carruther’s Cisticolas, a species which I had been trying to tape in at just about every single papyrus swamp during the past 2 weeks. Here, they responded immediately, and we had great views of this papyrus endemic. The birds were also seen by about 50 children who were very excited to see us, two strange white people with a bizarre interest in birds. Other interesting birds were Blue-headed Coucal, Lanner Falcon, one very probably White-winged Scrub-Warbler (brief views of a bird that responded to tape playback of this species), and 3 unexpected Yellow-billed Oxpeckers.
August 4th – Drive from Kisoro to Lake Mburo, birding at Lake Mburo
The drive from Kisoro to Lake Mburo was uneventful, with a few new birds along the way – Village Indigobird, Yellow Bishop and Eurasian Kestrel.
At Lake Mburo, we first birded around the headquarters and the tented camp, which was surprisingly productive at the hottest time of day – best birds were Greater Honeyguide, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Southern Black-Flycatcher (breeding near our tent), African Black-headed Oriole, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Trilling Cisticola and Red-headed Weaver.
We then went for an afternoon drive with Mozes, the local ranger/bird guide, along the lakeside track, in search of African Finfoot. We would have taken the boat, but I was very disappointed to discover that the engine of the boat was out of order. Despite much effort, the quest for the finfoot was unsuccessful L.
We did see several other good birds though, and the best was undoubtedly a Madagascar Pond-Heron. We saw it at a papyrus swamp where we also got Rufous-bellied Heron and Long-toed Lapwing. The heron drew my instant attention because it was obviously very dark, with heavy and broad black streaking on the breast, and no (or very little) buff on the back. Additionally we observed Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Green Woodhoopoe, and a heard-only Papyrus Gonolek.
At dusk, the African Scops-Owls duly started calling, and after about 10 minutes of tape playback, one individual flew into the tree just next to the tent, giving excellent views.
August 5th –Lake Mburo, drive to Entebbe
The last day of the trip started with a game drive in Lake Mburo NP, which was very successful indeed. The first highlight was a pair of Red-headed Lovebirds, followed by Red-faced Crombec, Red-backed Scrub-Robin, brief views of a White-winged Black-Tit, a pair of (restricted-range) Red-faced Barbets, 2 Little Sparrowhawks, African Cuckoo, Brubru (taped in when I heard one calling), and a small flock of Wattled Starlings. At one point I thought I heard the call of a parrot, so I quickly played the call of Meyer’s Parrot, and yes, a small group of this species turned up instantly. A big flock of vultures consisted of both White-backed and White-headed Vultures.
On our way out of the park, we added Common Scimitarbill, a female Green-winged Pytilia, another Nubian Woodpecker, Lilac-breasted Roller, and a single Tabora Cisticola.
The drive back to Entebbe, including a stop at Kaaku swamp, didn’t produce any new species, but worth mentioning nevertheless were African Marsh-Harrier, Marsh Tchagra, a big flock of Gray Crowned-Cranes, Sacred and Glossy Ibis, Rufous-bellied Heron, and Spur-winged Goose.
We arrived back in Entebbe late afternoon and caught our flight back to Brussels around 10.30 PM.
Full trip List for Uganda