Uganda Jan 28—Feb 18, 2006
Posted by David Hoddinott
Uganda is justly famous as the home of the bizarre Shoebill, the dream of many a birder, and for supporting over half the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. Our jam-packed itinerary produced far more than the intimate experiences we enjoyed with these main targets. In all, we found over 500 species of birds and a wealth of other wildlife in this, one of Africa’s most biologically diverse countries. Our other highlights ranged from obtaining fantastic photographs of one of the world’s great waders, the beautiful Egyptian Plover, to boating down the mighty Victoria Nile, to watching giant forest hog, and having magical experiences with several troops of chimpanzees.
After an evening arrival at sleepy Entebbe (where the aircraft from the famous 1976 raid still lies derelict on a runway!), we transferred to Mabira Forest near the source of the Nile. This exciting forest produced the rare Forest Woodhoopoe, the giant Great Blue Turaco, Black Cuckoo, Cassin’s Honeyguide, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrike, and a magnificent juvenile Crown Hawk-Eagle. In the late afternoon we arrived at Jinja where we observed a huge roost of straw-colored fruit bats.
Next we drove northwards to Masindi, picking up some great birds en route including Marsh Widowbird, Banded Snake-Eagle, White-headed Barbet, Purple Glossy-Starling, and a lovely female Pied Wheatear.
We made our acquaintance with Uganda’s vast rainforests the following day at the world-famous Royal Mile, one of Africa’s highest rated forest birding sites. Highlights included great scope views of all three forest kingfishers: Dwarf, Chocolate-backed, and Blue-breasted; Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle; Gray Parrot; a stunning male Emerald Cuckoo; Cassin’s and Sabine’s spinetails; Blue-throated Roller; White-thighed Hornbill; Chestnut-capped, African Forest, and African Shrike flycatchers; the beautiful Black-capped Apalis; and, in the rank vegetation nearby, Compact Weaver, Brown Twinspot, and Magpie Mannikin.
The vast Murchison Falls National Park, which straddles the mighty Victoria Nile, was our next destination. Departing from our tranquil lodge perched overlooking the Nile, we explored various sections of the park. On our boat trip to the Lake Albert Delta, hundreds of waterbirds lined the banks, including the impressive Shoebill, and mammals including African buffalo and African elephant were evident. An out-of-range Egyptian Plover showed well. Later, we encountered large herds of game during an excursion into palm savannas north of the Nile. At Kaniyo Pabidi forest we managed superb views of Puvel’s Illadopsis, here at its only East Africa location. Further exploration in the park took us to the mighty falls themselves, where the Nile is forced through a ten-meter gap resulting in the strongest flow of water on the planet! Rock Pratincoles wheeled in the spray, and other birding highlights included good numbers of Grasshopper Buzzards, Lesser Spotted Eagle, the nomadic Caspian Plover, Rufous-crowned Roller and a Stanley Bustard which had been attracted by the grass fires, stolid Abyssinian Ground-Hornbills, stunning Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, Black-billed Barbet, Silverbird, Brown-backed Woodpecker, Red-throated Pipit, Red-winged Gray Warbler, and uncommon Pygmy Sunbirds.
Heading south, we re-entered the forest zone again at Budongo, finding amongst many other species a magnificent male White-spotted Flufftail, Speckle-breasted Woodpecker, the rare Ituri Batis, and Lemon-bellied Crombec. Kibale Forest, Africa’s premier chimpanzee-watching destination, was our next stop. Our chimpanzee trek provided superb encounters with our closest living relatives. Primates are particularly abundant here and we enjoyed excellent viewing of several species of monkeys. Birding highlights included Crested Guineafowl, Black-billed Turaco, a superb Black-shouldered Nightjar, Narina Trogon, the radiant Black Bee-eater, the bizarre Yellow-billed Barbet, Joyful Greenbul, Mountain Wagtail, the localized Masked Apalis, and striking Brown-capped and Yellow-mantled weavers.
The world-renowned Queen Elizabeth National Park was our next destination, and we had sightings of Banded Snake-Eagle, a stunning male Pallid Harrier, African Crake, Allen’s Gallinule, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, White-tailed Lark, and literally thousands of waterbirds including a flock of 80 African Skimmers. Sightings of giant forest hog?the largest and undeniably ugliest pig on the planet, and large aggregations of elephant and hippopotamus during our unforgettable boat ride on the Kazinga Channel, were further highlights.
However, we had an appointment in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and our sense of excitement mounted as we approached this unique and priceless reserve. Approximately 600 mountain gorillas have survived the ravages of modern times, one for each ten million humans, and we were certainly privileged to be among those few who have, at first-hand, experienced these gentle giants. Although it requires an arduous trek, the awe in watching a family of mountain gorillas feeding, interacting, and resting, is undoubtedly one of the greatest wildlife experiences. The birding at Bwindi is also nothing short of spectacular, and we found a good selection of Albertine Rift endemics and other exciting forest birds. Memorable sightings included a beautiful Bar-tailed Trogon, Elliot’s Woodpecker, Red-faced Woodland and Black-faced Rufous warblers, the rare Chapin’s and Yellow-eyed Black flycatchers, Equatorial Akalat, White-bellied Robin-Chat, and Ansorge’s Greenbuls, only discovered in Uganda in 2001. In the evenings we relaxed at one of the most luxurious tented camps on the continent. Time at higher elevation sites in the reserve resulted in a different set of special birds: Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, world-class views of Handsome Francolin, stunning Regal sunbirds, Ruwenzori and Chestnut-throated apalises, the striking Ruwenzori Batis, Stripe-breasted Tit, Dusky Crimsonwing, and the multicolored Doherty’s Bush Shrike were all highlights.
In Lake Mburo National Park, we found the uncommon Rufous-bellied Heron and a good number of raptors including Lappet-faced Vulture and Little Sparrowhawk, Coqui Francolin, Green Sandpiper, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, a very confiding Pearl-spotted Owlet, Tabora Cisticola, the rare Greencap Eremomela, Red-headed Weaver, and a magnificent African Finfoot. Mammals abound in the park and we were treated to herds of zebra and impala. We were also treated to great views of a large herd of eland, the world’s largest antelope.
Our final birding stop, at Entebbe, produced Green-headed Sunbird and no less than six species of weavers including nest-building Orange and Northern Brown-throated weavers.