Birding Tour Uganda: Shoebill and Albertine Rift Endemics
Dates and Costs:
01 – 19 August 2021
Spaces available: 6
Price:US$8,950 / £6,767 / € 7,795 per person sharing
Single Supplement: US$720 / £545 / € 627
* Please note that currency conversion is calculated in real-time, therefore is subject to slight change. Please refer back to base price when making final payments.
01 – 19 August 2022
Spaces available: 6
Price:US$8,950 / £6,767 / € 7,795 per person sharing
Single Supplement: US$720 / £545 / € 627
Duration: 19 days
Group Size: 4 – 8
Tour Start: Entebbe
Tour End: Entebbe
Bed and breakfast in Entebbe
All accommodation while on tour
All meals while on tour
Private transportation in a 4×4 vehicle
Park entrance fees
Boat rides on the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth and on the Nile
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary fees
Nature walk fees
Canoe fees at Mabamba Swamp for Shoebill
Optional gorilla permit US$700
Optional chimpanzee trekking permit US$200
Items of a personal nature (such as gifts and laundry)
Gratuities (please see our tipping guidelines blog)
2021 Featured Guide:Dylan Vasapolli
Uganda: Shoebill, Grauer’s (African Green) Broadbill and other Albertine Rift Endemics, Green-breasted Pitta, Chimpanzees, Gorillas, and Murchison Falls National Park
This Uganda birding and mammal extravaganza allows you to find the most important birds and primates that Uganda has to offer. Shoebill is almost guaranteed. Over 20 Albertine (Western) Rift endemics are also sought, including one of Africa’s most fabulous turacos, Rwenzori Turaco, and of course the “must-see” Grauer’s (African Green) Broadbill. We have not yet missed Green-breasted Pitta on any of our trips – Uganda has become the classic country for finding this otherwise very difficult bird. We also look for other range-restricted birds, such as Red-faced Barbet that is also found in a remote part of Tanzania excluded from most birding tours to that country. Ross’s Turaco, Great Blue Turaco (almost twice the size of other turacos), and various other birds are virtually garden birds here in Uganda, “the Pearl of Africa”. Other highlights of our Uganda birding tour are a great many primates such as Uganda Red Colobus, Guereza, Mountain Gorilla, and Chimpanzee, not to mention the spectacular scenery, including such famous places as Lake Victoria (the continent’s largest lake), Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, and last but not least the Virunga Mountains.
Shoebill is one of our special targets on this tour.
The latter part of this tour is good for a host of more widespread African birds, Lion, with some luck Leopard, White Rhinoceros, and fabulous sites such as Murchison Falls, where the mighty Nile is forced through a narrow gap.
PLEASE NOTE: This trip is moderate in terms of fitness required, except for some days that are considered quite strenuous, such as the day of gorilla trekking and the day hike into Mubwindi Swamp and back. Chimpanzee trekking and looking for Green-breasted Pitta can also involve quite a lot of walking. You are welcome to opt out of any activities if you don’t feel you’ll manage them. There are also many days of forest birding; please wear appropriate clothing items (dark/neutral clothing and caps instead of very wide-brimmed hats) and be ready to spend good amounts of time on foot with a good chance of soaking rain, so protection for camera gear is advised.
We can arrange gorilla trekking for those keen to spend time with these fascinating animals.
Itinerary (19 days/18 nights)
Day 1. Arrival at Entebbe International Airport and birding the shore of Lake Victoria
We’ll fetch you from Entebbe International Airport and check in at our guest house before starting the birding. The dazzling Black-headed Gonolek as well as the striking Double-toothed Barbet are both common around Entebbe. Bat Hawk and African Hobby are sometimes seen around town. Broad-billed Roller, Palm-nut Vulture, numerous weavers, and perhaps our first Great Blue Turaco might be seen as we bird the Entebbe Botanical Garden on the edge of Africa’s largest lake.
Overnight: Lake Victoria View Guest House, Entebbe – Tel. +256-773104660
The Great Blue Turaco is magnificent!
Days 2 – 3. Shoebill and transfer to Lake Mburo National Park
Bypassing the bustling city of Kampala (adjacent to the more pleasant small town of Entebbe) we head for Mabamba Swamp, one of Africa’s most accessible sites for the monstrous Shoebill. The papyrus-swamp-loving Red-chested Sunbird, numerous weaver species that build their impressively neat nests in the wetlands, coucals, and many tropical waterbirds such as Lesser Jacana abound as we do a dugout canoe trip into the huge swamp. Swamp Flycatcher is also common here. After seeing Shoebill we continue to our site for Orange Weaver, often seeing Eastern Plantain-eater, Ross’s Turaco, large flocks of the noisy Great Blue Turaco (the far-carrying calls of which are one of the characteristic sounds of Uganda), Grey Kestrel, and a very big, beautiful barbet, Double-toothed Barbet.
We eventually arrive at Lake Mburo National Park (where we’ll spend two nights), which breaks the journey between Entebbe and the southwestern border region of Uganda, where we will look for over 20 Albertine Rift endemics (this, also known as the Western Rift, is a branch of the Great Rift Valley).
The following morning we take a boat trip on the lake, and this is one of the easiest places to find African Finfoot. We sometimes see overwintering Malagasy Pond Heron and Papyrus Gonolek in addition to an array of kingfishers including the likes of Malachite Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, and the rare Shining-blue Kingfisher. In general this park gives us an excellent opportunity to see a lot of arid-country birds, which can include Blue-naped Mousebird, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Golden-breasted Bunting, and the incredibly localized, rather “thin-on-the-ground” Red-faced Barbet, along with a more widespread East African species, Spot-flanked Barbet. Nubian Woodpecker is often heard before it is seen. Like in most arid-habitat parks in East Africa a large bird list can be accumulated very fast, and the above species are just a few of the many goodies we expect to find. This is the only place where we’re likely to see Plains Zebra during our Uganda birding tour, and there are a lot of other mammals as well, such as Hippopotamus, African Buffalo, Defassa Waterbuck, Bohor Reedbuck, Topi, Common Eland, and many more.
Overnight: Rwakobo Rock, Lake Mburo National Park – Tel. +256-755211771
Sometimes we see four or five African Finfoots at Lake Mburo.
Days 4 – 5. Birding the Virunga Mountains region: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The Mountain Gorillas here freely roam into neighboring Rwanda and the DRC, but with extreme luck we might stumble across them (usually we have to wait until we get to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, though). One of the main reasons we include this park on our Uganda birding tour is to look for the gorgeous Rwenzori Turaco. This park has a lot of bamboo forest, in which we search for Abyssinian Ground Thrush. The very rare Shelley’s Crimsonwing is always possible – this Endangered (IUCN) species seems to be declining, and for once not because of humans. We may get a head start with some other Albertine Rift endemics, but most of these will have to wait for Bwindi.
Overnight: Travellers Rest, Kisoro
The beautiful Regal Sunbird.
Days 6 – 7. Ruhija, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
We travel to one of Africa’s richest forests for primates and birds, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, and start in its high-altitude Ruhija part. We’ll start birding the forest-covered hills as soon as we arrive, looking for the beautiful Black Bee-eater and also trying to find Grauer’s Swamp Warbler at a roadside site, so that we can reduce the length of the long walk on day 6, this warbler occurring right in the lower reaches of Mubwindi Swamp. Mountain Yellow Warbler might also be seen, nice to compare with Papyrus Yellow Warbler, for which we try another day. A walk most of the way down to this swamp can’t be avoided, though, as Grauer’s (African Green) Broadbill, one of Africa’s most desirable birds, also occurs there.
The good-looking, highly localized Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher also lurks pretty close to the bottom reaches. The walk down to the site for this broadbill (and back) takes a large part of the day, but this is one of the best birding days of the entire tour. Trip participants usually end up getting a constant stream of life-birds throughout the day, mainly Albertine Rift endemics. Banded Prinia, Mountain Masked Apalis, Rwenzori Apalis, Chestnut-throated Apalis, the strange-looking (and dull for a barbet) Grey-throated Barbet, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, and up to four species of quiet, brightly colored forest finches known as crimsonwings (all of them very difficult, though!) are often encountered. There are too many high-quality species to list here, but we hope to find Olive-breasted Greenbul (one of the more attractively colored greenbuls – we’ll see a great many of the duller ones, as Uganda is absolutely full of them, presenting quite an identification challenge). We do need to mention a couple of the other range-restricted species as well, though, – the very long-tailed Blue-headed Sunbird, the dazzling Regal Sunbird, Stripe-breasted Tit, Rwenzori Batis, and also slightly more widespread species like the fabulous Bar-tailed Trogon and Rwenzori Hill Babbler.
Overnight: Trekker’s Tavern Cottages, Ruhija – Tel. +256-772455423
The highly prized Grauer’s (African Green) Broadbill.
Days 8 – 10. Buhoma, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park: birds and optional gorilla trekking
En route between the higher-altitude Ruhija and the lower-elevation Buhoma sections of the park we stop to bird “The Neck”, which allows us to see quite a number of species we won’t find elsewhere. Black Bee-eater and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater are both quite easy to see here. Chubb’s Cisticola duets from the thickets. Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher (also known as Vanga Flycatcher) might be seen – this charismatic bird usually moves around (a lot, it’s an extremely lively species) and makes lots of noise as it flies around from one perch to the next. It has a fabulous crest, but the female is chestnut and white, whereas the male is black-and-white with striking yellow eyes. We might also see Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Mackinnon’s Shrike, Bronzy Sunbird and several other sunbirds, African Grey Woodpecker, Augur Buzzard, etc.
At Buhoma itself there is the opportunity for one day optionally trekking for Mountain Gorilla (this is a strenuous, activity; if you decide not to join you’ll be taken birding instead, or you can relax or look at and photograph birds around the lodge). Deep-forest birds we’ll seek include many more localized endemics that barely get into neighboring countries – Grauer’s Warbler (not to be confused with Grauer’s Swamp Warbler, which we should have already seen), Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Lühder’s Bushshrike, Brown-capped Weaver and other weavers of the forest canopy, Red-throated Alethe, and lots of others. We’ll be sure to spend time looking for slightly more widespread birds as well, including the skulking White-spotted Flufftail, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Olive-bellied Sunbird, some beautiful forest barbets such as the large Yellow-billed Barbet, the dazzlingly bright and shiny, green-and-yellow African Emerald Cuckoo, and, last but not least, Black-billed Turaco.
Overnight: Ride 4 a Woman, Buhoma – Tel. +256-772607317
Bar-tailed Trogon is a target at Bwindi.
Day 11. Birds and mammals of Queen Elizabeth National Park
We stop over in Queen Elizabeth National Park (often staying on the Mweya peninsula itself, along the Kazinga Channel) en route to Kibale Forest. England’s queen officially opened this national park (well-known for its tree-climbing lions and boasting 100 mammal species and 600 bird species!) in 1954. One of the highlights of our stay here is getting out on the Kazinga Channel by boat and seeing Nile Crocodile, Hippopotamus, and a great many waterbirds. Naturally we also see Common Warthog, African Buffalo, Uganda Kob, and a plethora of other mammals. Forest Hog usually steals the show, however.
Overnight: Elephant Plains Lodge, Queen Elizabeth National Park – Tel. +256-772426368
Days 12 – 13. Kibale National Park – the Chimpanzee/Green-breasted Pitta combo
The drive from Queen Elizabeth to another fantastic national park, Kibale, is amazing: We traverse the foothills of the “Mountains of the Moon” (the Ruwenzori Range) and cross the equator, eventually arriving at the richest forest for primates on the African continent. Our main avian target is Green-breasted Pitta, which is best found at dawn, when its display call allows us to narrow down its whereabouts (otherwise, despite the jewel-like colors of this bird, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack on the forest floor). While we search for this bird the atmospheric, quite scary noises of large troops of Chimpanzees resonate through the forest. There is also the opportunity for optionally trekking for Chimpanzees. We should also find some other primates such as L’Hoest’s Monkey, Uganda Red Colobus, one of the most striking of all African primates, Guereza (Eastern Black-and-white Colobus), Red-tailed Monkey, Grey-cheeked Mangabey, and other monkeys (not to mention the well-built Olive Baboon, which wanders around in massive groups, usually on the ground). We also have a lot of good birds to see, which might include White-headed Wood Hoopoe, Narrow-tailed Starling, Black-billed Turaco, and Chestnut Wattle-eye.
Overnight: Kibale Forest Camp, Kibale National Park – Tel. +256-772339494
Green-breasted Pitta is one of Africa’s most sought-after species.
Day 14. Travel to Masindi
After some final birding around Kibale we head to Masindi. Time-permitting, we can already start birding famed sites nearby such as the Royal Mile.
Overnight: Masindi Hotel, Masindi – Tel. +256-77260420130
Day 15. Birding at Budongo Forest and the beautiful Royal Mile, transfer to Murchison Falls National Park
Budongo Forest is excellent for many special birds we won’t have yet seen during the tour. Chestnut-capped Flycatcher is a star bird – along with two other species: there is a trio of small warbler-like flycatchers that are taxonomically enigmatic, and this is one of them (we usually find the other two on our Tanzania and Mozambique birding tours). Fraser’s Forest Flycatcher is another prized bird here. But it’s the kingfishers (most of them not associated with water!) that make the Royal Mile famous. Chocolate-backed Kingfisher is probably the most popular of them all, but then Blue-breasted Kingfisher, African Dwarf Kingfisher, and others are also completely dazzling. Red-tailed Ant Thrush, Fire-crested Alethe, and Nahan’s Partridge usually stay close to the forest floor. The pretty Rufous-crowned Eremomela, White-thighed Hornbill, and a lot of others inhabit the canopy. Some fantastic forest barbets, tinkerbirds, and woodpeckers abound. There are a great many greenbuls, different species inhabiting different levels of the forest from the undergrowth to the canopy, and these are fun (or, in some people’s opinions, not!) to learn to identify. The Royal Mile is a breathtakingly beautiful forest to spend time in and certainly boasts an extremely rich birdlife. From here we will transfer to Murchison Falls National Park.
Overnight: Twiga Safari Lodge, near Murchison Falls National Park – Tel. +256-779492404
The bizarre Abyssinian Ground Hornbill.
Days 16 – 17. Murchison Falls National Park
We do boat trips and birding/game drives in this area, where we always add a great many new birds to our list. This is also a brilliant place for big and small mammals that might include Lion, Leopard, Rothschild’s Giraffe, Oribi, Lelwel Hartebeest, Common Warthog, the scarce Patas Monkey, and many others. Black-headed Lapwing, Silverbird, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Red-throated Bee-eater, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Rock Pratincole, White-headed Barbet, Black-billed Barbet, Meyer’s Parrot, and Bateleur are just a few of the species on our rather large menu.
We should of course mention the fact that the massive volume of the Nile River is forced through a narrow gap here at Murchison Falls – while looking at this site there is a small chance that we might also manage to find Pel’s Fishing Owl or Bat Hawk. Where possible we can arrange night drives for some nightjar and owl species in the area; these may include Long-tailed, Plain, and Pennant-winged Nightjars and possibly Greyish Eagle-Owl.
Overnight: Twiga Safari Lodge, near Murchison Falls National Park – Tel. +256-779492404
Day 18. Birding Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary on the way back to Entebbe
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is the only place in Uganda to see White Rhinoceros and arguably the best place for the incomparable White-crested Turaco. There’s a good variety of other birds as well (as usual), including Bronze–tailed, Purple, Splendid, and Rüppell’s Starlings, Parasitic Weaver, Marsh Widowbird, Weyns’s Weaver, African Hoopoe, African Cuckoo-Hawk, etc. We then transfer back to Entebbe.
Overnight: Lake Victoria View Guest House, Entebbe – Tel. +256-773104660
Day 19. Flights leave Entebbe
Your flight can leave any time today.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.
Eastern (Mountain) Gorilla
Northern Carmine Bee-eater
Great Blue Turaco
Abyssinian Ground Hornbill
Abyssinian Ground Thrush
This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Please read the Centers for Disease Control website’s section on Uganda (https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/uganda) very carefully, noting that anti-malarial drugs are needed and that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is needed to enter the country. Insect repellent and quick-drying long-sleeved shirts are a good idea, not only to help prevent mosquito bites but also to protect against other (simply pesky) insects such as biting flies.
Avoid travelers’ diarrhea by never drinking tap water or eating unpeeled fruit or salads. Unlimited bottled water is provided free of charge throughout the tour in the vehicles (we purchase this inexpensively at grocery stores; bottled water bought at restaurants is not covered).
In Uganda large animals such as elephants, hippos, lions, leopards, gorillas, chimpanzees, crocodiles, and others pose a risk and need to be treated with extreme respect. Small animals such as spiders, snakes, etc. can also, of course, pose a safety risk.
You’ll find the people of Uganda to be extremely friendly and helpful, but (like in most parts of the world) crime is possible (especially in the big cities). Always watch your valuables (although we certainly have never had any problems on any of our tours to Uganda).
Steep trails (see for example the part on gorilla trekking below) can also be a hazard.
Uganda, “the Pearl of Africa” is about the same size as the state of Oregon, yet boasts over 1000 bird species and Africa’s greatest concentration of primate species! This spectacular faunal diversity is partly explained by the dramatic variety of habitats that change constantly (and sometimes rapidly) as one drives across the country. This diversity of terrain and habitats also means that birders visiting Uganda need to be prepared for all kinds of different temperatures and weather patterns. At arrival in the hot and humid Entebbe airport one does not necessarily realize that a couple of days later one will likely be wearing fleeces high in the volcanic mountains straddling the border with Rwanda and the DRC; despite being equatorial, it can get cold in both Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (not usually quite as low as freezing point, though). It’s best to bring many layers; while quite often conditions will be unpleasantly hot and humid, at other times people get surprised how cold it is. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (especially its higher-altitude Ruhija section) and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park often leave people feeling markedly chilly.
The country of Uganda is full of water and has vast papyrus swamps (inhabited by an exciting variety of spectacular birds including Shoebill), shares a large part of Africa’s largest lake (Victoria) with its neighbors, and has some verdant forest thanks to the good amount of rain it receives. This also means that one has to be prepared for the possibility of rain, drizzle, and mist, although often this does not pose a major problem as we do run our set departure Uganda tours in the dry season, which covers the months from June to August. This is also when birds are in breeding plumage and singing and the intra-African migrants are present.
The “take-home” message is to bring layers, including waterproofs (which hopefully you won’t actually need, but which you certainly should carry, just in case, while gorilla trekking or on long birding walks). A nominal fee can be paid to porters for carrying gear during the longer birding walks and gorilla/chimp trekking. A waterproof day backpack is advised (whether you carry it or the porter does, during the birding and primate walks) – for waterproof layers, your water bottle, etc. Waterproof bags for placing cameras, cell phones, etc. into, in case that it does rain, are recommended.
Accommodation is by no means luxurious, and “load-shedding” is common – this is when the electricity supply is interrupted because of Uganda’s limited capacity for power generation. At other times electricity at some hotels will be from generators that are switched off at certain times (e.g. between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.). The guides will advise on the exact details/generator times during the tour. Rooms are not always heated and can actually get slightly chilly at night up in the mountains. At other times heat and humidity will of course be more of a problem.
Electricity in Uganda is 220 V and with UK-type plug sockets – full details are shown at http://www.power-plugs-sockets.com/uganda/ . Please do bring adapters (and in some cases a currency converter in order not to damage camera or other equipment, noting that voltage is twice that in North America).
The Ugandan Shilling (see http://www.xe.com/currency/ugx-ugandan-shilling for exchange rate, etc.) is the currency. You can draw this local currency using major credit cards (especially Visa and Mastercard) at ATMs (which can be found at the airport and in towns along the way – please do ask the guides a couple of days in advance when you need another ATM stop to replenish cash!). Major credit cards can be used for some purchases and to buy drinks and get laundry done at some hotels – but a supply of local cash is also essential, as some of the accommodations are remote and do not take cards (and neither do folks selling gifts and souvenirs along the route). US dollar cash is easily exchanged for local currency. Traveler’s checks are no longer used much, are extremely difficult to cash, and are not advised.
In terms of books, “The Birds of East Africa” field guide and the associated app (detailed in our African field guides blog) are highly recommended for Uganda.
PARTICULARS OF THE SHOEBILL AND ALBERTINE RIFT ENDEMICS TOUR
Most of the trip is not very strenuous. However, there are several walks that take at least half a day, sometimes the whole day. Gorilla trekking can take 2 to 14 hours, depending on where the gorilla family is on the day you do the trekking (it’s all about luck, or lack thereof!). The gorilla trekking is in a mountainous area, so expect to walk up and down a lot. Most of the time one has to leave the trail completely to get to where the gorillas are. This can involve some serious “bush-bashing” through the undergrowth; proper hiking boots with good grip are essential. Snakes and forest elephants lurk in the area; this is wild Africa. So be prepared, with proper clothing. For those folks who have problems walking, if you’re willing to pay at very least double the price of the gorilla trekking, you can be carried on a stretcher to see these great apes! So, if money is less of an issue, even this day does not have to be strenuous as the porters will prepare a stretcher for you on the spot. Strictly one hour is spent with the gorillas after meeting up with them – this is to keep disturbance to a minimum.
Chimpanzee trekking is usually quite a lot easier, as it is over flatter terrain. Of course, it still can involve quite a walk through a humid forest.
Those opting out of the gorilla and chimp trekking can catch up on rest and “regroup” at the lodge or will be taken birding if preferred.
The birding hike down to Mubwindi Swamp is one of the most exciting birding walks of the entire trip, as one often sees a constant stream (kept up through much of the day) of Albertine Rift endemics, the top one being African Green Broadbill, which is unfortunately right at the bottom around the swamp. One spends the whole morning slowly walking down; some people then struggle, as the entire afternoon is spent walking back – a long uphill for several hours! Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (near the start of the trip) is also strenuous but involves walking uphill first, then downhill later. The extension is not particularly strenuous but a moderate level of fitness is ideal nevertheless for birding walks at the Royal Mile and other places.
Those folks who are unfit (or who prefer just to have more of a vacation) can certainly feel free to opt out of the strenuous activities. The lodges are pleasant places to spend the occasional day relaxing, and we have found that photographers sometimes get quite good bird pictures by staying behind at the accommodations while the others embark on long walks. Some folks also opt out of pre-breakfast birding or night owling if they want a less tiring trip. We have found that a mix of hardcore birders and relaxed birding spouses have thoroughly enjoyed this trip to Uganda in the past since it is, on most days (except when driving between sites), easy to opt out of activities (for the less hardcore folks) and to enjoy “off” time around the hotels.
There are some boat trips on this tour. The trip to look for Shoebill at the Mabamba Swamp is in small dugout canoes (due to limited space in each “mokoro”, the group splits up into different canoes, which, however, stick close together as they travel out onto the water to seek Shoebill). Other wildlife-viewing boat trips such as on the Nile at Murchison Falls are on larger boats with cabins.
Sun protection (sunglasses, sunblock, hats/caps) are essential on the boat trips and on some of the walks.
A change of shoes is always good in case your boots get soaked from rain or walking through damp areas – a pair of lighter walking shoes is good to have along on the trip as a backup and for shorter walks. A third pair of shoes in the form of flip flops is nice to have for longer vehicle journeys and for relaxing around the lodges.
There might be swimming pools available, so swimwear can also be packed.
There are a few long drives during the tour that can take half a day or more between sites. Road work has been ongoing for several years in Uganda, so do be prepared to travel along the unpaved side of the road for many miles at times – this gets dusty.