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A Report from

UGANDA 18th February -14th March 2005,

Ulrik Andersen & Erik Mølgaard

Shoebill Stork


Ulrik Andersen
Kate Andersen
Erik Mølgaard
Marianne Mølgaard
Poul-Erik Madsen
Kirsten Madsen

1         BACKGROUND

Uganda has become a popular destination for birding trips in recent years - with good reason. A high number of species, particularly Central African forest species, are more accessible here than at other popular destinations, there is a fine selection of "restricted range species", and the incomparable Shoebill is easier to see here than anywhere else. These attractions - in addition to the incomparable mountain gorillas - were also the attractions that lured the six of us into visiting the country in early 2005. Overall, we had an excellent trip, recording 636 species of birds and 10 primates.

This trip report has been extended with some lessons learnt during the trip in order to provide birders contemplating a visit to Uganda with some practical hints and advice. Although we used fine books and trip reports extensively during our preparations, we got a few surprises, and it is our hope that the advice provided here will prove helpful to other birders.

This report has been written mainly by Ulrik Andersen, Slotsvej 28A, DK-2920 Charlottenlund, Denmark.

Questions can be addressed to andersen_ulrik (at)

2         REFERENCES

When planning a birding trip to Uganda, there are essentially three main references:

(1)     A general travel guide - by far the best available is the Bradt guide to Uganda, written by Phillip Biggs. Really excellent - and the author is apparently quite a keen birder himself.
(2)     "Where to Watch Birds in Uganda" by Jonathan Rossouw and Marco Sacchi, published by the Uganda Tourist Board. Includes all the main sites - absolutely indispensable.
(3)     A bird field guide - by far the best available for Uganda is "The Birds of East Africa" by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe.

A good online source of general tourist information is:

Additionally, you will probably want to refer to a few good trip reports. The following trip reports were helpful to me (among others):

(1) - July/August 2004 trip report by Geoff Dobbs
(2) - August 2002 trip report by Sam Woods
(3) - July 2002 trip report by Jan Vermeulen
(4) - July/August 2001 trip report by Jon Hornbuckle

3         OUR TRIP

Our Uganda trip took place from February 18th (arrival in Entebbe) to March 14th (departure from Entebbe) 2005. The timing was the result of careful studies of several sources although by far the greatest emphasis was awarded the recommendations of Rossouw & Sacchi. Unfortunately, this (otherwise indispensable) reference is quite misleading in this respect - which is one of the reasons I decided to extend this report with some practical advice.

Our group consisted of 4 birders and 2 non-birders. Compared to neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania, much more of the birding time in Uganda is bound to be in forest, meaning you will se much less game than in those countries. We are grateful for the indulgence of the 2 non-birders who felt they saw too many trees and too few mammals during this trip!


Although you could fairly easily visit Uganda independently and simply rent a car upon arrival, I think Uganda is a destination where it is worth considering employing a local agency. Although the country as a whole seems fairly stable at the moment, the situation is somewhat volatile in quite a few excellent birding areas, e.g.:

Mainly because of these concerns - and because we wanted to hire a specific local bird guide - we decided to leave the practical arrangements to Access Uganda Tours, a travel agency in Kampala with a good reputation and experience with birding trips.

I communicated with Access Uganda Tours via e-mail (, establishing the itinerary, hiring the guide etc. Payment was by international bank transfer (SWIFT). Everything worked quite well and I can definitely recommend you to use Access Uganda Tours for your arrangements. Website:

The cost of our trip was 3,850 USD per person for all ground transportation (excellent driver throughout the trip), accommodations, meals, park entrance fees and guiding, but excluding flight tickets and gorilla permits as well as drinks and tips.

We knew from the start of our planning that we wanted Alfred Twinomujuni from Bwindi to be our guide throughout the trip and he can be hired through Access Uganda Tours. Alfred is a fantastic forest birder and knows all bird calls of all the forests, including Semliki. Although he has a good collection of recordings on minidisc, he is also an incredible imitator and it seemed his whistling often was more efficient at attracting birds than the recordings! On top of that, he is a very pleasant person with a good sense of humour. At the time of our trip, he charged 50 USD per day for his guiding services (plus food and lodging) - which might be expensive by Ugandan standards, but we consider it quite a bargain! Alfred can be contacted directly on birdwatchuganda (at) - but beware that there are no internet facilities in his hometown (Buhoma). but this mail account is monitored from Kampala, so you should receive his replies fairly quickly. Since most of your most wanted birds – apart from Shoebill – are likely to be forest birds, you won’t find anyone more capable of planning your trip than Alfred.

5         TIMING

5.1      Urgency

In the days when Uganda was "truly the Pearl of Africa" (Winston Churchill, 1907), it had one million inhabitants and most of the country was still in a natural state. Although Ugandan travel agencies shamelessly use the "Pearl of Africa" label even today, the country has changed profoundly and does not look significantly different - or more "pearl-like" - than the neighbouring countries. However, Uganda is definitely still a pleasant country to visit anyway.

Uganda today has a population of more than 26 million people and it is very evident to the visitor that the natural resources are under huge pressure almost everywhere. Clearly the country is already overpopulated, and to make matters worse, the population growth of 3.6% per year is one of the highest in the World (possibly the highest) and means the population more than doubles every twenty years! Everywhere you go in Uganda, you see incredible numbers of children, and although they are invariably cheerful and friendly, their numbers make them Uganda's disaster number one.

The rapidly increasing human population - and the resulting reduction in forest and woodland cover in the whole Great Lakes region - has started a clear and very dangerous trend towards a hotter and drier climate. The water levels are falling (e.g. in Lake Victoria) and in most years Uganda receives less precipitation than it needs. This increases the pressure on the remaining reserves even further - and the protection of swamps and forest is nominal in most areas.

I may be a pessimist, but I am convinced birding in Uganda will be much poorer in twenty years when the population will be more than 50 million people and the climate is likely to be drier and hotter! Sadly, Uganda seems more than likely to become an ecological disaster area.

Based on the above, my advice would be to visit Uganda as soon as possible.

5.2      Time of Year

One of the main factors to consider when deciding when to go is the climate. Uganda's climate is rather variable, but to generalise, one could say that the southern part of the country has two rainy (March-May, September-November) and two dry seasons (June-August, December-February), none of which is usually severe. Going north, there is a transition into one wet (normally late March to early November, June - August somewhat drier) and one dry (and hot) season (November-March) in the Budongo / Murchison Falls area. In a dry year, this long dry season in reality is a drought.

The following recommendations are a summary of my lengthy discussions with Alfred:

The BEST time to go birding in Uganda is from late May through September. To be more specific, probably the very best time overall is late August through early to mid September. The main nesting season in Bwindi and Mgahinga (key sites for the Albertine Rift Endemics) is May and June so this could also be your first choice (depending on your priorities, of course) - e.g. African Green Broadbill is often easier to find in May/June than in August/September.

The northern summer is the main fruiting season in most of the forests and seeds are plentiful in the open areas - in other words, food is abundant and so are the birds. Another advantage of this time of year is that widowbirds, bishops, quealeas etc. are in breeding plumage. Also, there are large numbers of spectacular butterflies to enjoy in the northern summer. Actually, the only disadvantage is that June through September is also a nice time where most birders live (northern Europe and North America).

Another good time to go birding in Uganda is late March through early April, i.e. after the rains have started and cooled down the north a bit and caused the forest birds to start vocalising, but before the rains become too heavy for birding to be pleasant. The food supply is not yet so good, though, and bird populations are low.

The worst time to go birding in Uganda is February (especially mid to late February and early March), particularly in the north (unpleasantly hot and dry and no fruits or seeds). Thus, despite our good intentions, we actually ended up doing our trip at the worst time of year! Let me just quote our excellent Ugandan guide, Alfred Twinomujuni: "February is a horrible time to visit Budongo and Murchison Falls!" That being said, late February / early March is a very good time to visit Semliki N.P. which only has one dry season (December through February) and can be unpleasantly wet the rest of the year.

Other periods you may want to avoid is mid-April/mid-May and October/mid-November when Bwindi may be too wet for birding to be enjoyable and minor roads can become very bad indeed, perhaps inpassable (at least in wet years), and you may lose precious birding time. Birds are very active during the rains, though.

If you insist on escaping the northern winter, December/January should normally be fine as the heat and drought is typically not yet too bad in the north. And if it is not a dry year, any time in winter is fine. The southernmost part of the country (Bwindi, Mgahinga, Lake Mburo) should always be good, and Shoebill can be seen at any time of the year!

Bottom line: Any time of year is good for birding - but the northern summer is clearly best.

5.3      Duration

If you want to cover as many areas as we did, I would recommend you to spend at least as long time as we did. However, if your group includes non-birders, it should be emphasized that 24 days will probably be too long a trip. Uganda's main attractions for non-birders are the mountain gorillas and the chimpanzees. While the game parks are worth a visit, it must be admitted that they are nowhere near as exciting as the game parks of Kenya and Tanzania. E.g., we found the game viewing in Queen Elizabeth N.P. to be rather disappointing with neither the variety nor the number of animals we have experienced elsewhere in East Africa.

Kidepo Valley N.P. in the far northeast is an additional area which is definitely worth a visit, both for mammals and birds - although for security reasons travel to and from should be by air.

Bottom line: 3-4 weeks are required for a decent birding trip.


I will make specific recommendations for the individual areas. Here I just want to state that you should never stay more than one hour (by car) from your morning birding site. Driving at night in Uganda is not recommended for security reasons and it seems that the local operators more or less have instructions not to do so. This means that if you use the services of a good and reliable local agency, you won't be able to leave your accommodations until six o'clock in the morning (and sunrise is around seven).

In some areas, you should not even be on the road in the evening. Obviously, this hampers your opportunities for owling, but improves your chances of getting a good night's sleep....

7         FOOD

Food is definitely not a reason to visit Uganda, and we had few meals that were memorable. Beef was almost always disappointing and chicken was not impressive either. However, fish was almost always good, so whenever you can get fresh fish, I would recommend you to do so. Apart from fish, the avocados are fantastic. And of course, you can get good fruit.

One thing that may drive you nuts is the slow - sometimes unbelievably slow - service at nearly all restaurants. If possible, order your food beforehand for an agreed serving time - although you will probably still often experience waiting time!

Another thing which may drive you nuts is that apparently you are rarely expected, even with confirmed reservations - which may mean a very limited selection of food on the day of arrival (on top of the long waiting time).

8         BIRDS

To list conscious birders like us, the main target species on a Uganda trip are:

We had several fine observations of the incredible Shoebill - this one is worth travelling to Uganda for alone!

Of the 25 possible ARE's, we saw 24 species with the main highlight undoubtedly being our superb obervations of African Green Broadbill. The one ARE we missed is very difficult and rarely seen by anybody (Shelley's Crimsonwing). For an introduction to the Albertine Rift EBA and a complete list of bird species restricted to it, see

We did see Fox's Weaver as well as all of the papyrus endemics and most of the other restricted range species.

In return for missing a few of the hoped for restricted range species (as well as a number of Sahelian species), we saw a nice collection of Palearctic winter visitors, the best of which perhaps were Steppe and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Montagu's and Pallid Harriers, Black-winged Pratincole, Isabelline and Pied Wheatears, and Isabelline and Woodchat Shrikes, in addition to tens of thousands of White-winged Terns.


Rossouw & Saachi is the essential reference. Below are some notes which are meant to complement this excellent guide book.

9.1.1      Entebbe

Since almost all visitors to Uganda arrive and depart here, it is very convenient indeed that the birding is good. Birding tours typically visit the botanical gardens, but if it is sunny and hot during the visit, I would recommend you to visit the zoo (Entebbe Wildlife Centre) instead since it is much shadier and holds almost the same birds. Orange Weaver is actually both more numerous and easier to see well here.

Regarding accommodations, there are several very expensive hotels and one or two mid-range options. We stayed at the mid-range Sophie's Motel. If you stay there, try to get a room on the upper floor - otherwise you are likely to have a hot night.

9.1.2      Lutembe Bay

We visited this site to experience the White-winged Tern roost which used to hold up to a million birds or more. However, the site has recently been destroyed by a ruthless flower company (producing flowers for the European market!) who has filled in part of the swamp, as well as by local villagers who have burnt other parts. Consequently, the tern roost seems to have moved and the site is really not worthwhile although quite a few water birds may be seen.

9.1.3      Kampala

The Ugandan capital is completely chaotic and due to the lack of a ring road you are bound to pass through it several times. You will hate it. There is a more or less constant traffic jam and it takes up to two hours to get through although the city is not that large. If possible, pass through on Sundays when traffic is significantly lighter - or very early in the morning.

9.1.4      Mabamba Swamp

This is still a reliable site for Shoebill despite the obvious human pressure on its habitat. There is a lot of human activity in the swamp, mostly fishing and boating, but sadly even widespread poaching for sitatunga with large areas of the swamp being burnt to flush the poor antelopes from their hides. This is a site you can easily visit on your own - a shoebill guide is always on duty and taking out birders and showing them a shoebill is now a well established business here.

9.1.5      Budongo Forest

Good throughout the year, best April through September, worst in February (contre Rossouw & Saachi). It was very hot during our visit (up to 39˚C). However, despite our bad timing, our only painful miss was Ituri Batis (restricted range species), but the forest seemed completely lifeless most of the time and finding the birds was really hard work. On the other hand, Nahan's Francolin was very cooperative. We were also lucky with the chimps here, seeing them both at Busingiro and the Royal Mile, although they are most reliably found in May through August.

Masindi Hotel is a comfortable base, but beware that it is almost an hour from both Busingiro and the Royal Mile. We were advised NOT to stay out late for night birds because the road was said not to be safe at night. Thus, if you want to do some spotlighting here you must stay in the guest house at the Nyabyeya Forest College. At the time of our visit, they did not have running water and you should definitely be prepared for substandard accommodations here - but it is situated right by the Royal Mile.

There is an excellent local bird guide, Vincent Odama, who was based at Busingiro at the time of our visit. Do not be fooled by his modest and somewhat introvert attitude - Vincent knows all the bird calls of the forest. Busingiro is also where you have to buy your permit for entering the forest.

Budongo Forest is under huge pressure with illegal burning evident along its edges. More eco-tourists are very much needed here! Most of the nearby Bugoma Forest (not developed for tourism) which holds almost the same birdlife (and mammals, including chimps) was illegally burnt down around the time of our visit and many herdsmen and their 40,000 heads of cattle moved in. At the time of writing this (May 2005), they have still not been thrown out - apparently because some of the cattle are owned by government officials....

9.1.6      Murchison Falls National Park

Good throughout the year except in February and early March (contre Rossouw & Saachi) when the area is often a depressing sight: bone-dry, burnt and unbearably hot, and time may be best spent sailing on the Nile. I definitely concur with Alfred's statement (see above) regarding Murchison - although I do not doubt that it is much better in a wet year.

We missed most of the so-called Murchison specialities which, however, are all widely distributed species. The birding highlight here was undoubtedly the nightjars for which both the access road to the falls and the road from Paraa to Nile Safari Camp were good. If you want to see Shoebill, go for the lauch trip to the delta which seems to be the only area where it is seen regularly now. We only did the afternoon launch trip to the base of the falls, a spectacular trip that is highly recommended (sit on the left side) although the hike from there to the top of the falls is not worthwhile - the number of tourists on the track means that you would have to be extremely lucky to see a Pel's Fishing-Owl here!

By far the best place to stay is the Nile Safari Camp which has good food, a fantastic staff and a superb location (although Shoebill does not nest here anymore - but may still be seen feeding, with luck). In contrast, the Sambiya River Lodge seems to be in a less attractive area with lots of tsetse flies. The Paraa Safari Lodge on the north side of the Nile is conveniently located for game drives (there is not much game south of the Nile), but after having had a lousy lunch there, I must say that we did not like this place. Still, you may consider spending a single night here to be able to have an early start on your game drive and then move to the Nile Safari Camp for the rest of your stay.

If you are on a tight budget, the only option seems to be the Red Chili Lodge at Paraa which is where all the beautiful young female backpackers stay, probably making it easier to bear with the lower standards.☺

Even inside the national park there are problems with human pressure and illegal activities. Many - if not most - of the burns are the deeds of poachers trying to flush the game.

9.1.7      Kanyo Pabidi Forest

Kanyo Pabidi is part of Budongo Forest although it now lies inside the gates of Murchison Falls NP - meaning you must pay national park entrance fee to visit the forest!

Kanyo Pabidi is well known as the only East African locality for Puvel's Illiadopsis (fairly common), but it is actually also good for other exciting species such as Rufous-sided Broadbill, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher and Green-breasted Pitta (difficult!). In addition, it is the best locality in East Africa for the rare Black-eared Ground-Thrush (very difficult, especially in the dry season). There are also habituated chimpanzees here.

A good bird guide, Cyprianou, is available. The nearest accommodations (apart from the basic huts on the spot) are in Masindi, 45 minutes to the south.

9.1.8      Kibale National Park

Supposedly good from late March to November, the best time to visit is July through September if you want to make an effort for Green-breasted Pitta which is regularly heard calling then (and is thus easier located).

Apart from the pitta, the stellar attraction here is White-naped Pigeon which is also uncommon, though usually easier to find.

Another key species is White-collared Oliveback which is hard to miss at the nearby Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary except in February when there are rather few of its favourite flowers.

Bamboo Warbler can be found along the entrance track to park headquarters - but it was too windy when we tried for it.

We managed to miss all of the above and saw little of interest here (rain in the morning and burning sun later did not help), apart from a group of four chimpanzees which we came across by sheer coincidence. According to Alfred, birding in Kibale can be so good that you only move 50 m in an hour (in the summer).

We tried rather hard for the pitta (which is extremely difficult in February), meaning there was no time to search properly for White-naped Pigeon. The latter is often easier to find in the higher part of the forest along the main road from Fort Portal to Kampala.

There is no good bird guide available here, but Harriet (the female ranger) keeps an eye out for pittas and will usually know where it is best to search for them. Kibale NP has several groups of habituated chimpanzees and tracking them is a major tourist attraction here.

We stayed at the CVK Resort near park headquarters, which is a quite basic place, only 8 km from the main tourist and birding area at Kanyanchu.  If you want to be positioned for both Kanyanchu and Sebitoli (the upper section) you may prefer to stay in Fort Portal. 

9.1.9      Semliki National Park

The only site visited where our timing was perfect, and we enjoyed excellent birding here. Some of the highligts were: all of the hornbills (including Black Dwarf), negrofinches and malimbes, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Black-throated Coucal, Bates' Nightjar, Leaflove, Simple Greenbul, Swamp Palm Bulbul and Grant's Bluebill. Further, we saw an unidentified flycatcher which may have been the first Olivaceous Flycatcher for East Africa! If anyone knows the song of the Eastern DRC population of this species, let me know, and I shall be pleased to e-mail you a .wav file with a recording of our bird for your critical examination.  The bird was (of course) found by Alfred who was really in excellent shape here!

In Semliki there is only one dry season (December through February) and the rest of the year it can be very wet indeed.

However, it is not quite as important to come at the driest time of year as it used to be because the Kirumia River trail (the main birding trail) has been diverted so that it does not go through the wettest and muddiest area anymore. It can still be extremely muddy outside the late dry season, though.

Birding is good here any time it is not too wet to be pleasant. During our visit, bird activity was good until about 13.30 after which it died out almost completely (because the sun had burnt away the clouds around that time).

During the time of our visit, the Kirumia River trail was completely dry all the way (or at least as far as the third oxbow lake where we turned around). There used to be a good bird guide available here (Godfrey), but he has been transferred to other duties now. The friendly ranger guide who accompanied us in the forest (Samson) knew many bird calls and seemed keen to learn so by the time you get there, he may well be a good bird guide.

Forget about visiting Semliki on day trips from Fort Portal. The road is unsafe at night meaning no reputable local operator will take you down it before daybreak. Thus your only option (if not camping) is to stay at a hotel in Bundibugyo (some 30 minutes from the start of the Kirumia trail). We stayed at the basic Vanilla Hotel which is said to be the best around. However, to us the self-contained rooms looked like single rooms - the bed was approximately one meter wide. If going with a group of hardbirders (typically men only), you will probably have to stay in rooms without a private bathroom since those rooms did have two single beds. The place is very friendly - just not built for European tourists!

Beware that this is a very poor area with many food items in short supply - you should tell the restaurant staff at the hotel what you would like to have for dinner before you go birding, giving them a chance to try to get hold of the necessary ingredients. Also, I would recommend you to buy some bread, avocados, fruit, tinned tuna etc. in Fort Portal for your lunches in the forest - do not expect to be able to buy a nice packed lunch in Bundibugyo.

Think twice before taking non-birders to Semliki National Park. Apart from the hot springs there is not a lot to see or do for the non-birder. The park needs more activities, e.g. forest elephant tracking or chimp tracking.

9.1.10 Queen Elizabeth National Park

This is considered the prime game park of Uganda, but if you have been to the Serengeti or Masaai Mara, you will not be impressed although it is definitely worth a visit. The best game viewing area is said to be the Kasenyi Plains which are located quite some distance from the lodgings - on the other side of the main road in an area with some local traffic (because Kasenyi village is lying at the far end of the plains). I think the uninhabited southern plains in the Ishasha sector of the park looked far more interesting and with a wonderful feeling of remoteness, the only drawback being there is no good lodging in that sector.

To us, the time best spent here was undoubtedly our afternoon boat trip on the Kazinga channel (sit on the left side of the boat) - highly recommended. This was very good for both birds and mammals (including the incredible Giant Forest Hog).

Although the bird list is the longest in Uganda - and we were even able to add one (Tawny Pipit) to the list - there are few if any specialities, so the very list focused (and narrow-minded birder might want to skip this park when planning his itinerary.

The best time to visit Queen Elizabeth NP is April through January, particularly August/September (Brown-chested Lapwing) and December/January (Palearctic visitors).

Mweya Lodge is a superb place to stay - best rooms of the trip and good food in the restaurant. However, we were not too impressed by the service. E.g., breakfast is only available until 10 making it very difficult to do a morning game drive to the Kasenyi Plains without missing breakfast (we took packed breakfast which was NOT good). And you should definitely NOT buy packed lunch here - it is a complete rip-off, very poor and ridiculously expensive.

Even here human pressure is noticeable with wildlife populations declining markedly due to extensive poaching by local villagers.

9.1.11 Kalinzu Forest

Kalinzu Forest does not seem to be regularly visited by birders despite being mentioned in Rossouw & Saachi - which is a pity. It takes about an hour and a half to get here from Mweya. We spent a couple of hours here in the morning before heading south through Queen Elizabeth NP.

There is good and easy birding in the secondary growth along the entrance road and reputedly (we did not try) difficult birding in the primary forest (which also has habituated chimps) some 5 km from the main road. The entrance road is the best site in Uganda for Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye and it is also good for forest birds in general including Antpecker at times. The rather open habitat makes it easy to see many birds well, including spectacular birds such as Black Bee-eater, turacos, woodhoopoes etc. This locality deserves more time than we spared it.

9.1.12 Bwindi National Park

The most important site in Uganda for birders and non-birders alike! Bwindi is home to all Ugandan Albertine Rift Endemics (ARE's) and it is the best site for nearly all of them. However, unless you are exceptionally narrow-minded the mountain gorillas are bound to be the greatest experience of your entire trip.

Bwindi is very well covered by Rossouw & Saachi so all I want to say is this:

In the late dry season, birds tend to concentrate in the valleys whereas the ridges may be more or less deserted. E.g., when in Ruhija, we found the birding in the Mubwindi Swamp valley to be very good - but the bamboo zone was a complete waste of time.

Ruhija is the prime area for most ARE's - but there is nothing to do for non-birders. Unfortunately, the verges of the road from Ruhija towards Kabale (i.e. through the bamboo zone) are now cut regularly meaning so do not expect to see Handsome Francolin - and especially not Shelley's Crimsonwing (which Alfred has never seen here) - feeding at the edge of the road.

The other nearly impossible ARE is Oberlaender's Ground-Thrush which Alfred has seen less than ten times (usually at Buhoma).

The best time to go birding in Bwindi is late March through September (mid April through mid May often very wet) with May/June being the peak nesting season - but birding can be good all year. Gorilla tracking (very expensive, but definitely worthwhile) is handled very professionally here and you are virtually guaranteed to see the gorillas at any time of year although it may be physically more challenging when the vegetation is driest (January/February and July/August), because the gorillas move around quite a bit then. And a friend of mine who went in July told me that the gorillas had just been sitting in the treetops when he was with them - not so exciting.

Bwindi NP is the crown jewel among Ugandan nature reserves and is apparently the only Ugandan reserve to be well guarded and well protected. We saw no signs of illegal activities here.

9.1.13 Echuya Forest Reserve

This is a small forest reserve straddling the main road from Kabale to Kisoro. According to Alfred, there are plans for a birding trail which would be most welcome because the road carries quite a lot of traffic. A very nice forest with good birding and the only place we saw Kivu Ground-Thrush (common in Bwindi, but silent at the time of our visit).

9.1.14 Mgahinga National Park

Three ARE's are easier here than in Bwindi: Rwenzori Double-collared Sunbird (common), Rwenzori Turaco (fairly common though not easy in February/March) and Shelley's Crimsonwing. The latter is very difficult even here, but in June last year, park staff found an active nest in the bamboo zone and was able to reliably show the crimsonwing to visitors for a few weeks. That could happen again - so if visiting in May/June, do inquire about this (nearly impossible) species.

There is a crazily overpriced upmarket camp at the park entrance. We stayed at the Traveller's Rest in Kisoro, "Dian Fossey's second home" and a quite comfortable place with adequate food, located about half an hour from the park.

9.1.15 Lake Bunyonyi

We included Lake Bunyonyi in our itinerary to look for Papyrus Yellow Warbler in the Ruvuma Swamp (mentioned in the Bradt guide) at the northern end of the lake, about mid-way between Kabale and Kisoro.

Much to our surprise (and dismay), the swamp had been nearly completely drained during the last couple of years and is definitely not the place to look for papyrus specialities anymore. All natural habitats are under pressure in Uganda, but none more than the swamps which in reality are completely unprotected outside the major cities. However, there is still a papyrus swamp at the far southern end of the lake, reached by a long boat trip from Rutinda near Kabale and this was where we were taken. Alfred thought this was what we had asked for....

Since it is a long trip, you should only go if you really want to see a Papyrus Yellow Warbler. And if you do go, make sure you hire the boat from the boat jetty - and NOT from the restaurant (Karibuni?) a few 100 meters closer to Kabale as we did since this is a completely incompetent operation. We ran out of fuel a long way from home and did not exactly feel good (drifting under the merciless sun with no drinking water) until a boat from the Overland Camp passed by and offered us a lift back! Also, we had to trample through fields along the partly burnt inner margin of the swamp because our boat could not go close to the outer (lake-side) edge because the aquatic vegetation would get stuck in the screw (take a boat that can be paddled!).

The swamp also holds the other "papyrus endemics" (Papyrus Gonolek and Canary, White-winged Warbler, Carruther's Cisticola). Lake Bunyonyi is also the home of an interesting population of weavers looking like Northern Masked Weaver and reported as such by several bird tour companies. However, Alfred told us that others think this is a hybrid population between Northern Brown-throated and Yellow-backed Weavers. Apparently a blood sample has been taken and sent for DNA analysis so hopefully the problem is resolved in the near future.

If you decide to visit this swamp, stay in Kabale the night before rather than in Kisoro as it is much closer to Rutinda.

9.1.16 Lake Mburo National Park

Although not large, this is a very nice savanna park with many antelopes and very good birding. This park can be visited with good result all year. Make sure you take a boat trip on the lake for easy finfoots and excellent papyrus swamp birding. All the "papyrus endemics" occur here although Papyrus Yellow Warbler is rarely reported. However, the habitat looks a lot better than the swamp we visited at Lake Bunyoni.

The stellar ornithological attraction of this park is perhaps Red-faced Barbet which is found nowhere else in Uganda and is only known from a handful of localities outside Uganda. It can occur almost anywhere in the park although it might be most reliable in Rwonyo Camp where we found it along the track to the museum.

The only upmarket accommodation in the park is the Mantana Tented Camp where we stayed. Unfortunately, it does not live up to the high standard set by the Mantana Camp in Bwindi (and Kibale NP, I am told). The service and food were not good. If going again, I think I would opt for the best accommodations available in the (basic) Rwonyo Camp (run by the park authorities)!

This is another park under huge human pressure. The park boundaries do not seem to be respected by the local population and we saw lots of cattle inside the park. Either the park management is incompetent or corrupt.

9.1.17 Lake Bisina

Lake Bisina is a rather large shallow lake north of Mbale in eastern Uganada described in Rossouw & Saachi. Boats can be hired on the southern shore near the western end of the lake. You are highly unlikely to be able to find the track going there from the main road on your own - it starts as a very insignificant gravel road and after several forks turns into a bike path before the lake is even visible!

The best time to visit is April through August when the main target species (Fox's Weaver, of course) is nesting and easy to find. We struggled for quite a while before finding a few females or immatures because no nesting activity had yet begun. The highlight of our visit was a fantastic Shoebill sighting. We also saw quite a few Lesser Jacana and Pygmy-Goose.

However, the (too) large human population has nearly emptied the lake for fish meaning there are not so much food and therefore not so many birds. According to Alfred, the local villagers also catch and eat all birds (of all kinds!) they can get hold of which does not exactly improve the opportunities for birding, either.

We visited on a day trip from Jinja (3+ hours each way), but good accommodations are available in Mbale if you prefer to stay closer to the locality.

9.1.18 Mabira Forest

This forest reserve between Kampala and Jinja provides excellent birding all year round. It is the best place in Uganda for Forest Woodhoopoe, Purple-throated Cuckoo-Shrike, Blue-headed Crested-Flycatcher and Tit Hylia - and a good locality for Nahan's Francolin. If Tit Hylia is a priority, you should come in August when they are feeding their fledged young. The rest of the year this is a very inconspicuous species.

An advantage of Mabira Forest is that an excellent bird guide is available here. Ibrahim Senfuma knows the forest and all its avian inhabitants extremely well and he is strongly recommended as a guide.

Basic accommodations are available near the office. We stayed at the comfortable Jinja Nile Resort (with excellent birding in the garden) in Jinja, less than half an hour from the forest.

This is yet another reserve under huge human pressure and the forest is literally stolen tree by tree, every night. When the reserve was established the villages were allowed to remain and the result is that the reserve is impossible to protect effectively against thievish villagers.


Under this heading the following is provided:

10.1 Itinerary


Arrival Entebbe 8.30. Entebbe Wildlife Centre 9.30-11.45. Lutembe Bay 16.00-18.45 (boat trip there). Weather: Sunny and warm to hot.


Morning trip to Mabamba Swamp with boat trip there 8.30-10.45. 14.00-18.45 drive from Kampala to Masindi with long birding stop 35 km from Masindi. Weather: Sunny and hot.


Budongo Forest: Busingiro 7.00-18.00, including chimp tracking. Waterhole 5 km east of there (through the sugar cane farm, at the edge of the forest) 18.10-19.00. Weather: Sunny and hot (max 39˚C).


Budongo Forest: Royal Mile 7.00-12.00. At the waterhole 16.00-17.10. Fields near Nyabyeya 17.30-19.00. Weather: Sunny and hot.


Butiaba Escarpment 7.00-10.00. Nile Safari Camp from 11.30 with boat trip there 17.00-19.00. Weather: Sunny and hot.


Murchison Falls NP: Sambiya River Lodge and the road to Murchison Falls 6.00-12.00. Launch trip to the base of the falls 14.00-16.15. Above falls until 19.15 and night drive back to camp. Weather: Sunny and hot.


Murchison Falls NP: Game drive north of the Nile 7.30-13.00. Lunch at Paraa Safari Lodge. Nile Safari Camp from 16.00, birding in the vicinity. Weather: Sunny and hot.


Kanyo Pabidi Forest 7.45-9.30. Brief birding stop along the main road through the northern (Sebitoli) sector of Kibale NP at 16.00. CVK Resort from 16.30. Weather: Sunny and hot until we reached Kibale NP where it turned nice and cloudy. Very windy at the CVK Resort due to upcoming rain.


Kibale NP at Kanyanchu 7.00-15.00. Bigodi Swamp 15.15-18.30. Weather: Early morning overcast, then rain. After that sunny and warm.


Semliki NP 9.25-18.00: Sempaya / Ntandi. Weather: Overcast until about 13.00. After that sunny (and warm).


Semliki NP 7.15-17.55: Kirumia River trail. Weather: Overcast until about 13.00. After that sunny (and warm).


Semliki NP 7.00-9.15: Kirumia River trail. Fort Portal 11.25-13.10. Mweya Lodge in Queen Elizabeth NP from 15.50. Game drive 17.15-19.30. Weather: Sunny and warm to hot.


Queen Elizabeth NP: Game drive to Kasenyi plains 6.40-11.40. Kazinga channel launch trip 15.00-17.00. Game drive near the lodge 17.30-19.50. Weather: Sunny and warm to hot. Thunderstorms in the evening.


Kalinzu Forest 8.30-10.45. South through Queen Elizabeth NP with a game drive in the Ishasha sector. Arrival Buhoma 18.00. Weather: Sunny in the morning, later variable cloudiness, warm.


Bwindi NP: Buhoma: Gorilla tracking. In the late afternoon a birding walk near the village. Weather: Overcast in the morning, rain showers in the afternoon, nice temperature.


Bwindi NP: Buhoma: Birding the main trail 7.30-15.45. Weather: Variable cloudiness and rain showers, nice temperature.


Bwindi NP: Departure Buhoma 7.35. The Neck 9.45-11.40. Arrival Ruhija 14.20. Late afternoon walk in the vicinity. Weather: Variable cloudiness, nice temperature.


Bwindi NP: Ruhija: Mubwindi Swamp trail 7.30-14.30. Weather: Sunny in the morning, rain showers in the afternoon, nice and cool.


Bwindi NP: Ruhija bamboo zone 7.45-11.15. Lunch in Kabale. Echuya Forest 15.50-17.10. Weather: Sunny and cool - warm in the afternoon.


Mgahinga NP 7.30-16.00. Weather: Variable cloudiness, rain showers, cool.


Lake Bunyoni 8.45-14.45. Lake Mburo NP from 18.40. Weather: Sunny and warm.


Lake Mburo NP until 13.40 (bird walk, boat trip and game drive). Arrival in Jinja 19.50. Weather: Sunny and warm.


Lake Bisina 9.40-12.20. Jinja from 16.25. Weather: Sunny and warm.


Mabira Forest "pond track" 7.30-11.00. Mabamba Swamp boat trip 15.00-18.00. Weather: Sunny and warm to hot.


Departure from Entebbe 10.05.

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