Uganda Highlights Jan 13—Feb 01, 2018

Posted by Kevin Zimmer

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Kevin Zimmer

Kevin Zimmer has authored three books and numerous papers dealing with field identification and bird-finding in North America. His book, Birding in the American West: A Han...

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This was the inaugural January departure of our increasingly popular Uganda Highlights tour, and it proved an unqualified success in delivering up-close-and-personal observations of wild Mountain Gorillas, wild Chimpanzees, and multiple bizarre Shoebills.  Beyond these iconic creatures, we racked up over 450 species of birds and had fabulous encounters with Lion, Leopard, Hippopotamus, African Elephant, Rothschild’s Giraffe, and an amazing total of 11 species of primates.  The “Pearl of Africa” lived up to its advance billing as a premier destination for birding and game viewing in every way, and although the bird-species composition and levels of song/breeding activity in this dry season were somewhat different from those encountered during our June visits, the overall species diversity of both birds and mammals encountered proved remarkably similar.

Shoebill

Shoebill— Photo: Kevin J. Zimmer

 

After everyone had assembled in Entebbe, we spent a relaxing first afternoon birding the surprisingly productive grounds of our hotel, where spectacular views of Ross’s Turaco, Splendid Starling, and Black-headed Gonolek kept yanking us away from more common fare, including Eastern Plantain-eater, Red-chested Sunbird, and an active colony of nest-building Northern Brown-throated Weavers, to name just a few.

The next day we hit the ground running, with a morning excursion to the fabulous Mabamba wetlands.  Spread over three boats, we spent a magical few hours alternately motoring and being poled through a series of narrow channels in a vast papyrus marsh.  Our primary target was the incredible Shoebill, a prehistoric relict constituting a monotypic family that is endemic to the African continent, and, for most first-time visitors to Uganda, the ‘most-wanted’ bird of the trip.  We would have other chances for the species, but the chances of encountering another before reaching Murchison Falls (at the very end of the tour) were not great, so we instructed the boatmen at Mabamba to prioritize the Shoebill before spending time on the many other denizens of the marsh.  We were barely 30 minutes into our search when we scored big, with a superb, close Shoebill that allowed lengthy studies and gave a nice demonstration of its foraging technique by patiently waiting for a lungfish to surface and then lunging with its massive bill, scooping up large amounts of vegetation and muck, along with its intended prey.  Eventually, the behemoth tired of us, and lifted off, headed for more distant parts of the marsh.

Read Kevin’s full report in his Field Report.