Uganda Jan 06—27, 2007
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 of these main targets. In all, we found over 550 species of birds and a wealth of other wildlife in this, one of Africa’s most biologically diverse countries. Our other highlights ranged from magical experiences with a large family group of chimpanzees, a new record of all 12 diurnal primate species on the trip, amazing tree-climbing lions, and cruising the mighty Victoria Nile, to watching a displaying pair of Thick-billed Cuckoos.
After an early morning 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 Black-bellied Seedcracker, the giant Great Blue Turaco, a magnificent adult Crowned Hawk-Eagle, Gray Parrot (wonderful to see these common cage birds flying wild over rainforest!), African Pied Hornbill, the rare Lesser (Green-tailed) Bristlebill, Yellow-mantled Weaver, and the highly elusive Green-backed Twinspot. In the late afternoon we arrived at Jinja where we found a huge roost of straw-colored fruit bats and a wonderful pair of Bat Hawks.
Next we drove northwards to Masindi, picking up some great birds en route including Banded Snake-Eagle, White-headed and Spot-flanked barbets, Purple Glossy-Starling, and a stunning male Klaas’ Cuckoo.
We made our acquaintance with East Africa’s vastest rainforest the following day at the world-famous Royal Mile, one of Africa’s highest rated forest birding sites. Highlights included great scope views of Blue-breasted Kingfisher; African Emerald Cuckoo; Sabine’s Spinetail; localized White-thighed Hornbill; Golden-crowned Woodpecker; Spotted Greenbul; Lemon-bellied Crombec; Chestnut-capped, African Forest, and African Shrike flycatchers; the beautiful Superb Sunbird; and Crested Malimbe.
The huge 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, and mammals?including African buffalo and African elephant?were evident. Later we encountered large herds of game during an excursion into palm savannas north of the Nile. During our game drives along the Nile we picked up the steely-eyed and most impressive Shoebill. 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 were in evidence and other birding highlights included Rueppell’s Griffon, stately Martial Eagles, Grasshopper Buzzard, Red-necked Falcon, Heuglin’s Francolin, the nomadic Caspian Plover, several Stanley Bustards, Temminck’s Courser and Black-headed Lapwing which had been attracted by the dry conditions, stolid Abyssinian Ground-Hornbills and stunning Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, Abyssinian Roller, Black-billed Barbet, Silverbird, Brown-backed Woodpecker, Red-winged Gray Warbler, the rare White-fronted Black-Chat, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, and elusive Red-winged Pytilia.
Heading south, we re-entered the forest zone again at Budongo, finding?amongst many other species?a stunning Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, the rare Ituri Batis, splendid Jameson’s Wattle-eye, and the stunning Black-capped Apalis. 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 including gray-cheeked mangabey and red colobus. Birding highlights included a magnificent male White-spotted Flufftail, Crested Guineafowl, a superb Black-shouldered Nightjar, Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, an obliging Red-chested Owlet, Narina Trogon, the radiant Black Bee-eater, the bizarre Yellow-billed Barbet, Joyful Greenbul, Mountain Wagtail, the localized Masked Apalis, striking Brown-capped and Forest weavers, and rare Speckle-breasted Woodpecker.
The world-renowned Queen Elizabeth National Park was our next destination and we had sightings of both flamingo species, Banded Snake-Eagle, a stunning male Pallid Harrier, African Hobby, African Crake, Black Coucal, and literally thousands of waterbirds, including a flock of 300 African Skimmers and Heuglin’s Gulls. Fantastic sightings of tree-climbing lions 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 650 mountain gorillas have survived the ravages of modern times, one for each ten million humans, and we were certainly privileged to be amongst those few who have, at first-hand, experienced these gentle giants. Although it required 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; Willcock’s Honeyguide; Tullberg’s and Elliot’s woodpeckers; African Broadbill displaying; Red-throated Alethe; Red-faced Woodland, Black-faced Rufous, and Grauer’s warblers; White-browed Crombec; the shy Neumann’s Warbler; Equatorial Akalat; White-bellied Robin-Chat; Ruwenzori Batis; 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 and we were fortunate in observing stunning Regal Sunbird, Ruwenzori and Chestnut-throated apalis, Stripe-breasted Tit, and the multicolored Doherty’s Bush Shrike.
In Lake Mburo National Park we found the uncommon Little Bittern and a good number of raptors including Lappet-faced and White-headed vultures and Bateleur, Coqui Francolin, Green Sandpiper, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, a very confiding Pearl-spotted Owlet, Tabora Cisticola, Red-headed Weaver, the rare Red-faced Barbet, and a magnificent African Finfoot. As if this weren’t enough, we topped it all with a wonderful pair of displaying Thick-billed Cuckoos, a difficult bird throughout its range. Mammals abound in the park and we were treated to herds of zebra and impala.
Our final birding stop, at Entebbe, produced the striking Orange and Golden-backed weavers. An unforgettable and very successful African adventure had come to an end and we boarded our return flights home.