Ultimate Uganda Birding Tour – Shoebill, Albertine Rift Endemics and Great Apes
Dates and Costs:
01 – 19 August 2022
Spaces Available: The 2022 trip is FULL, please consider booking for 2023
We do also have 1 place left on a Uganda departure for an Audubon Society in July 2022, please email for details
Price:US$8,950 / £7,613 / € 8,972 per person sharing
Single Supplement: US$720 / £612 / € 721
* 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.
11 – 29 July 2023
Spaces Available: 6
Price:US$9,400 / £7,995 / € 9,423 per person sharing
Single Supplement: US$736 / £626 / € 738
(Please also read our blogs about recommended field guides for the seven continents here)
Duration: 19 days
Group Size: 4 – 8
Tour Start: Entebbe, Uganda
Tour End: Entebbe, Uganda
Meals (from lunch on day 1 until breakfast on day 19)
Unlimited bottled water
Expert tour leader
All entrance & conservation fees
All ground transport, including airport pick-up and drop-off
Boat rides in Queen Elizabeth National Park & Murchison Falls National Park
Canoe fees at Mabamba Swamp (Shoebill)
International/domestic flights (to/from Entebbe)
Items of a personal nature, e.g. gifts, laundry, internet access, phone calls, etc.
Any pre- or post-tour accommodation, meals, or birding excursions
Personal travel insurance
Gratuities (please see our tipping guidelines blog)
Optional Gorilla tracking permit ($700 currently)
Optional Chimpanzee tracking permit ($200 currently, note this is included for the 2023 tour)
2022 Featured Guide:Dominic Rollinson
Ultimate Uganda Birding Tour – Shoebill, Albertine Rift Endemics and Great Apes
August 2022/July 2023
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, Eastern (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 the most sought-after birds in the world, and 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.
We have the option to spend some time with Eastern (Mountain) Gorillas on this tour.
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.
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
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
Sometimes we see up to five African Finfoots at Lake Mburo.
Days 4 – 5. Birding the Virunga Mountains region: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The Eastern (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 is an Albertine Rift endemic.
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
The highly prized Grauer’s (African Green) Broadbill is another major target.
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.
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), Bar-tailed Trogon, 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.
Forest-edge birding can be equally rewarding (and often easier for photography!) with such specials as Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, Great Blue and Ross’s Turaco, Grey-winged Robin-Chat, Black-necked Weaver, Red-headed Malimbe, Northern Double-collared Sunbird, Grey-headed Nigrita and many others. Over our two full days here we will spend plenty of time birding the forest trails, forest edge and adjacent agricultural areas.
At Buhoma itself, there is the opportunity for one day optionally trekking for Mountain Gorillas (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).
Overnight: Ride 4 a Woman, Buhoma
Bar-tailed Trogon occurs in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
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: Bushlodge, Queen Elizabeth National Park
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 Lodge, Bigodi
Green-breasted Pitta is another of Africa’s most sought-after species we’ll be targeting.
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.
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.
The massive Abyssinian Ground Hornbill can be found in Murchison Falls National Park.
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, Weynes’s Weaver, African Hoopoe, African Cuckoo-Hawk, etc. We then transfer back to Entebbe.
Overnight: Lake Victoria View Guest House, Entebbe
Day 19. Flights leave Entebbe
Your flight can leave any time today from Entebbe International Airport.
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.Download Itinerary
Uganda Set Departure Birding Trip Report, August 2021
01 – 19 August 2021
Uganda is the most accessible and reliable destination to see the mega Shoebill.
Our annual 19-day set departure Uganda birding and primates tour covers some of the best birding regions in Uganda. Concentrating on the main birding circuit, that focuses on the western half of the country, this tour is specifically set up to maximize chances of finding as many of the Albertine Rift bird endemics as possible, along with making allowances for other highly prized and sought-after species such as Shoebill and Green-breasted Pitta. Of course, Uganda’s main mammalian attractions are not ignored, with this tour making time for them – namely Chimpanzee and Eastern (Mountain) Gorilla tracking. The country’s vast network of excellent savanna parks also adds to the mammalian attraction, and indeed the ‘Big 5’ are all possible along this routing. These are namely; Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhinoceros (White), and African Buffalo.
We were highly successful in finding Leopards on this tour, in addition to birds – this was one of four seen, with this individual sighted at Lake Mburo National Park.
This 2021 tour was run within the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic with a small group of participants. Despite the altered circumstances, locally and worldwide, the running of this tour was not adversely affected, and we enjoyed a smooth tour throughout. Timed during the first half of August, means this is supposed to be prior to the rainy season – although being a tropical, equatorial country, rain is a possibility throughout, and indeed, we did have rain on a number of days, though fortunately, it only compromised our birding on a very minor basis. Indeed, the birding was exceptional throughout the tour, with the total trip list surpassing 550 species, with nearly 530 species being seen. The highlights are too many to list, but knock-out views of Shoebill were a great start to the tour, as were a high number of Albertine Rift endemics – some 23 seen, almost all of the possibilities – including excellent and prolonged views of Rwenzori Turaco, Grauer’s (African Green) Broadbill and Neumann’s Warbler, along with three separate Green-breasted Pittas (in a single morning). Another testament to the excellent birding on this tour, was the number of days where the daily total surpassed 100 – even on days that were primarily centered on forest birding, such as our day birding the Royal Mile in the Budongo Forest. We also had memorable encounters with Eastern (Mountain) Gorillas and Chimpanzees, along with an almost unbelievable four sightings of Leopards! These were only a small part of the 40+ mammal species seen, which included the ‘Big 5’ and so many others. Overall, almost all of the main target species were seen on this tour, with more detailed information on the species located in the report below, along with the attached lists at the end of the report.
Day 1, 1st August 2019. An introduction, Entebbe
The first morning of our tour had arrived. We started things with some birding around Entebbe; the gardens of the hotel as well as the Entebbe Botanical Garden were both really productive. The hotel gardens produced Black-headed Gonolek, Eastern Plantain-eater (right alongside the breakfast veranda), Red-chested and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Village Weaver, Brimstone Canary, and Bronze Mannikin, as well as a pair of African Hobbies. A small flock of Meyer’s Parrots was also a treat – first seen perched on a tree on the hillside and later seen cruising by at high speed, screeching away.
The botanical garden is beautiful and never ceases to produce really enjoyable sightings. We began on the shoreline in search of the tricky Orange Weaver. We picked up Yellow-billed Kites, Hooded Vulture, Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Olive Sunbird, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Hadada Ibis, and Grey-capped Warbler even before we made it to the shoreline. The species on the shores of Lake Victoria included Pied Kingfisher, Reed Cormorant, Black Crake, Winding Cisticola, Swamp Flycatcher, Olive Bee-eater, African Openbill, a pair of African Fish Eagles, and a single Common Sandpiper. The amazing Great Blue Turaco made its presence felt with its incredibly loud call, and not long after that we saw two of them clambering through some foliage. Yellow-throated Longclaw displayed, while both Tambourine Dove and African Green Pigeon put in fly-by appearances. With some persistence we also picked up both Orange and Golden-backed Weavers. Other species that morning included Klaas’s Cuckoo, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Green Crombec, Northern Yellow White-eye, and Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat. Crowned Hornbill was also great, it would be our first of many on the tour.
Day 1, 1st August 2021. Arrival in Entebbe, and birding the shores of Lake Victoria
Following Ira and Ramona’s arrival into Uganda, we spent the remainder of the morning resting at our comfortable guest house in Entebbe. Of course, a number of birds were seen whilst ‘resting’, and we enjoyed the likes of Red-chested, Scarlet-chested and Variable Sunbirds all busily feeding on the flowers, while a pair of Black-headed Gonoleks skulked around the thickets and flocks of Bronze Mannikins zipped overhead. Other notable sightings included White-browed Robin-Chat and a pair of Meyer’s Parrots that were nesting on a nearby telegraph pole.
Our afternoon was spent exploring the always-fantastic Entebbe Botanical Gardens, along with stopping off at a local Bat Hawk spot in town along the way – the pair of Bat Hawks were present and gave us unobstructed views. We slowly wandered around the gardens, exploring the various roads and trails, cutting through small tracts of forest on the edge of Lake Victoria (although a recent rise in water levels had washed away and ruined much of the great habitat that was formerly present). Great Blue Turaco is always a major highlight here, and watching numbers of these truly massive and stunning birds bounding away up in the trees didn’t disappoint. Nearby, we also enjoyed Ross’s Turaco and many Eastern Plantain-eaters. Black-and-white-casqued Hornbills were a regular feature throughout our time here, while it took a little while to track down some calling Grey Parrots, we eventually enjoyed excellent views of this prized species.
In some of the denser areas, Little Greenbuls gave us fleeting views, leaving us wanting a bit more, while we couldn’t have asked for better views of the tiny African Pygmy Kingfisher, with Grey-capped Warbler and Green Hylia remaining firmly hidden. Numbers of Olive Bee-eaters and Broad-billed Rollers lined the tree tops on the edge of the lake, and were replaced with Pied Kingfisher lower down. A single Red-headed Lovebird whizzing by and landing at the top of a nearby tree, was an unexpected highlight, while returning our attention to the lake edge, we notched up Western Osprey, African Fish Eagle, Winding Cisticola and a number of different weavers – Village, Vieillot’s Black, Golden-backed and the decidedly tricky Orange Weaver. Other species seen during our time here included African Openbill, the strange Hamerkop, Palm-nut Vulture, African Green Pigeon, Crowned Hornbill, Woodland Kingfisher, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher and Olive and Olive-bellied Sunbirds. Mammals seen here included a few troops of the incredible Guereza (Black-and-white Colobus) and Striped Ground and Isabelline Red-legged Sun Squirrels. We ended a great first day on tour with the sun setting over Lake Victoria.
The massive Great Blue Turaco is always a firm highlight around Entebbe.
Day 2, 2nd August 2021. Shoebill, and transfer to Lake Mburo National Park
This is one of the most highly anticipated days of the trip – searching for Shoebill. We had an early start, and before long we were loaded up, and on the road to Mabamba Swamp. Once we arrived, we set off in our dug-out canoe, and explored some of the many channels that line the vast papyrus swamps. It didn’t take us long before we found a Shoebill, and we were treated to some incredible views of this prehistoric-looking beast. A short while later, the bird took off, and we began searching for some of the many other species that call this area home. A stunning Papyrus Gonolek showed exceptionally well, as did the shy Little Bittern, however both Greater Swamp and Grey-capped Warblers refused to cooperate. Weyns’s Weaver left us wanting more, however Northern Brown-throated Weaver showed exceptionally well. Our search for Lesser Jacana was sadly unsuccessful, but we did enjoy numbers of Black Crakes, African Jacanas and Long-toed Lapwings, as some compensation. The cute Blue-breasted Bee-eater was yet another highlight. Back on land, we headed off to try and better our views of Weyns’s Weaver and explored some nearby areas – alas, no weavers, but we did add the likes of Rufous-naped Lark, Red-faced Cisticola and Blue-spotted Wood Dove, before it started raining and we called time on the area.
We continued on our way to Lake Mburo National Park, with intermittent rain throughout (sometimes quite heavy) and made a successful roadside stop for White-winged Swamp Warbler, which did eventually show. After enjoying some of the equator antics, we pressed onwards to Lake Mburo, and arrived at the turnoff in the mid-afternoon. We immediately set about birding the entrance road, and found the going slow as the birding was just so good! A group of Brown-chested Lapwings feeding next to the road were arguably our main highlight – this being a sought-after and decidedly tricky species to pin down. We enjoyed a wide range of other species, everything from Lilac-breasted Rollers and Grey-backed Fiscals to colorful seedeaters such as Red-billed Firefinch, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu and Golden-breasted Bunting. After checking in at our comfortable lodge located atop a scenic ‘koppie’, we set about exploring the surrounds on foot. While the birding was a bit slow, we enjoyed the likes of Crested Francolin, Blue-naped Mousebird, both Nubian and Golden-tailed Woodpeckers, Common Scimitarbill and Yellow-throated Leaflove. The entrance also produced our first large mammals of the trip – many of them seeking the water available outside the park, due to the very dry conditions present. We notched up Common Dwarf Mongoose, Impala, (Defassa) Waterbuck, Plains Zebra and Common Warthog. We then settled in for the evening following a great day!
Day 3, 3rd August 2021. Birding Lake Mburo National Park and surrounds
Our morning began with some birding around our lodge, where our primary quarry was the incredibly localized and near-endemic, Red-faced Barbet. It took a little while of searching, but we were eventually rewarded with excellent views of a pair of these sought-after birds. Other birds seen during our morning stroll included African Green Pigeon, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Pale Flycatcher, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Black-necked Weaver and a few of the delightful Black-faced Waxbill. With our main target in the bag, we continued onwards into the Lake Mburo National Park, where we would spend a few hours driving around and exploring the dry acacia savannas that comprise the main habitat here. We had an incredible morning, and the birds kept on rolling in. Bare-faced Go-away-bird was an early highlight, as was the skulking Slate-colored Boubou, which showed well. Buff-bellied Warblers were numerous and we enjoyed multiple looks at this lively bird, and we were also able to compare these with the even smaller Grey Penduline Tit. We enjoyed many barbets here, with a pair of White-headed Barbets and a small party of Crested Barbets being our main highlights, with Spot-flanked Barbet a regular feature. We stumbled into a feeding flock, and spent some time working the flock to see what was around. White-winged Black Tit and Black Cukooshrike were conspicuous, however a few of the decidedly scarce Green-capped Eremomelas were also present, as they fed unobtrusively. Both Lesser and Greater Honeyguides gave us good views, and we were also able to dig out the fierce-looking Pearl-spotted Owlet! Recently burnt grassland produced Plain-backed Pipit, and here we were also finally able to get onto a Long-tailed Cisticola. Although very dry, some of the grassy areas held Yellow-throated Longclaw and Zitting Cistiola. As the day started warming up, raptors became more obvious, and we enjoyed multiple sightings of Bateleur, along with Wahlberg’s Eagle, African Harrier-Hawk and both White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures.
We returned back to our lodge for a short afternoon siesta, before venturing back into the park in the afternoon, with a boat cruise on Lake Mburo – our ‘main event’ for the afternoon. Our afternoon got off to a flying start when we had another look at the fresh carcass we had found up a tree earlier in the morning, and found the culprit, a female Leopard, up the tree. We strongly suspected Leopard, but couldn’t find the cat in the morning. We enjoyed some great views, before it eventually climbed down and went to relax in some of the dense thickets nearby, crossing right in front of us! Before long, we found ourselves on the boat and enjoying the likes of the many Pied and Malachite Kingfishers on the lake. We slowly meandered along, searching various bays and gullies for the many specials. It took quite some time of searching, and we were beginning to wonder if we would miss them, but eventually we did find two female African Finfoot (well spotted, Ira!), and enjoyed superb views of these shy and sought-after birds. We were also able to enjoy a male African Finfoot shortly before ending our boat trip. One of the other major highlights, and a huge surprise, went to a showy pair of White-spotted Flufftails we found working the edge of the dam. While this species is expected on a Uganda birding tour, it certainly isn’t expected at this site. A wide range of other waterbirds and general riverine thicket species were seen, and included numerous African Fish Eagles, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Water Thick-knee, Striated Heron, Giant Kingfisher, Snowy-crowed and Red-capped Robin-Chats, Swamp Flycatcher, Greater Swamp Warbler and Slender-billed Weaver. The many pods of Hippopotamus always provide some amusement with their peculiar characteristics, and we were also able to advance our reptile list with Nile Crocodile.
Arriving back on land in the late afternoon, we were transitioning straight into our night drive, and soon set off. As the sun was setting, we found a number of roosting raptors, ranging from Lappet-faced and White-headed Vultures to Bateleur. As night fell, we soon enjoyed our first views of African Savanna Hare and Central African Large-spotted Genet, but the nocturnal birds were all quiet sadly. We ventured back past our Leopard kill, and found the female Leopard gorging herself on her freshly killed Plains Zebra calf, in plain sight on the ground. We soaked in the moment, and this once in a lifetime view, for quite some time before eventually leaving this beautiful cat to herself, and continuing on. The rest of the night drive was quiet, with little else of interest seen. Regardless, we returned back to the lodge for a late dinner, brimming from ear to ear, and reminisced about the truly excellent day we had experienced.
The tricky East African endemic Red-faced Barbet showed well after a bit of a search.
Day 4, 4th August 2021. Transfer to Kisoro, birding en-route
With the day largely devoted to travel, as we ventured into the ‘volcano land’ of south-western Uganda around Kisoro, we began the day with a morning walk around our lodge. The morning was a little on the slow side, though we did enjoy a number of more widespread species such as Ross’s Turaco, Little Bee-eater, Pale Flycatcher, White-browed Robin-Chat, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu and Yellow-fronted Canary. We soon found ourselves in the car, and driving towards Kisoro. We had a few birding stops along the way, and added the likes of the decidedly tricky Papyrus Canary and the rare Ruaha Chat. We also found other birds such as Grey Crowned Crane, Augur Buzzard, Carruthers’s Cisticola, Mackinnon’s Fiscal, Bronzy Sunbird, Brimstone Canary and the lovely Black-crowned Waxbill. Our main stop was the Echuya Forest, where we spent a few hours. The birding was quite simply sublime, and we barely covered 50 meters of the road during our entire time here, with new species continually popping up. As it often goes with forest birding, many of the birds are canopy dwellers, and some of the views leave you wanting more – though with some effort, you are usually rewarded with better, closer views. We got our Albertine Rift endemic campaign off with good views of Rwenzori Batis, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Rwenzori Apalis, Rwenzori Hill Babbler, Strange Weaver, Regal Sunbird and the shy Archer’s Ground Robin! A great many other species were seen including; Albertine Sooty Boubou, Mountain Oriole, Olive-breasted Greenbul, White-browed Crombec, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Chubb’s Cisticola, White-starred Robin, Northern Double-collared Sunbird and a large group of the snazzy Kandt’s Waxbill. We eventually had to pull ourselves away, and pressed on to Kisoro. Our evening was capped off with a very vocal, and showy Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl around our accommodations in the evening.
Regal Sunbird is a delightful Albertine Rift endemic.
Day 5, 5th August 2021. Birding Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in the very southwest of the country, and is home to a few species of birds that aren’t easily possible anywhere else on the main Uganda birding circuit. These are namely Rwenzori Turaco and Rwenzori Double-collared Sunbird – and they naturally formed our main targets. We didn’t have to work hard for the sunbird, with a stunning male Rwenzori Double-collared Sunbird greeting us as soon as we hopped out of the car at the park entrance – with many more seen during the course of the day. The Rwenzori Turacos are a little bit scarcer and more unobtrusive, but we didn’t have to work too hard for these either, and enjoyed multiple great looks at our first attempt. The mix of forest and open scrubby areas proved very productive and we enjoyed an excellent, and bird-filled, hike up and down the trails that lead up to Mount Sabyinyo. This area is another treasure chest, full of Albertine Rift endemics, and we were able to add to our impressive list from the previous evening with the likes of the scarce Dwarf Honeyguide and Mountain Masked Apalis, while enjoying repeat, and arguably even better, views of the likes of Rwenzori Batis, Rwenzori Apalis, Rwenzori Hill Babbler, Strange Weaver and Archer’s Ground Robin. Try as we might, we couldn’t turn any of the many Kandt’s Waxbills into Dusky Crimsonwings (or the rare Shelley’s Crimsonwing). Handsome Spurfowl was another that eluded us, calling in the distance and remaining unseen, as did Lagden’s Bushshrike. Other birds we enjoyed during our walk were Dusky Turtle Dove (which showed after a long search), a surprise Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Western and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds virtually side-by-side, Olive Woodpecker, the difficult-to-see Doherty’s Bushshrike, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher and Baglafecht Weaver. Mammals were represented by a few (Western) Bushbuck, along with the localized and very shy ‘Golden Monkey’, which is currently classified as a subspecies of Blue Monkey. After a good hike up and down the mountain, we returned back to our lodge and relaxed for the remainder of the afternoon, returning just in time, as it started raining.
Rwenzori Turaco is a highly sought-after special, missed on most Uganda birding tours.
Day 6, 6th August 2021. Transfer from Kisoro to Ruhija, birding en-route
Following a hearty breakfast, we checked out of our comfortable Kisoro lodging, and began the journey onwards to Ruhija, located in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where we would be based for the next two nights. We stopped off at the Echuya Forest, where we spent a few hours birding. Although a little quiet after all the rain the previous day, things soon began livening up and we had a spectacular walk with loads of bird activity. A few showy Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters kicked things off, before a Red-chested Cuckoo put in a fine appearance. A short distance away, we heard the always elusive Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, and much to our surprise enjoyed an absolutely stunning sighting after minimal effort – with the bird perched in the open, at length for us. We couldn’t have asked for a better view of this desirable (and normally very shy) species! A few Black-faced Prinias played hide and seek with us, but eventually showed, while a brief glimpse of a Red-throated Alethe left us wanting more. Thick-billed Seedeater was also added to our growing tally, while we enjoyed repeat views of the likes of African Olive Pigeon, Long-crested Eagle, Western Tinkerbird, Mountain Oriole, Rwenzori Apalis, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Rwenzori Hill Babbler, Regal Sunbird and Kandt’s Waxbill. Following our time in Echuya, we spent some time searching for Papyrus Yellow Warbler once more – and had our hearts in our mouths when the very similar African Yellow Warbler emerged from within the papyrus. Sadly, despite our best efforts, we had to admit defeat on this front. Our time was not wasted however, as we enjoyed excellent birding around the swamp, picking up the likes of the tricky Papyrus Canary once more, along with others such as Blue-headed Coucal, Papyrus Gonolek, Carruthers’s Cisticola, Greater Swamp Warbler, Green-headed Sunbird and a great number of weavers – ranging from the small Slender-billed Weaver through to the large Holub’s Golden Weaver, and a number in between.
Before we knew it, we found ourselves within the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and our first birding stop produced the tricky Albertine Rift endemic Grauer’s Warbler. We also enjoyed our first Black-billed Turacos and Grey-throated Barbets, while Lagden’s Bushsrike frustrated us once more by calling in the valley and remaining unseen. A single Handsome Spurfowl was seen in the bamboo zone, before we arrived at our comfortable lodge. We spent the afternoon birding around Ruhija, and enjoyed a fruitful afternoon. Our first Stripe-breasted Tit showed early on, while we enjoyed the likes of Fine-banded Woodpecker, Black-billed Weaver and Grey-headed Sunbird as well. The walk also provided us with some great views of a number of Albertine Rift endemics we had seen already on the tour, with species such as Rwenzori Batis, Rwenzori and Mountain Masked Apalises, Regal Sunbird, Rwenzori Hill Babbler and Red-faced Woodland Warbler. Our afternoon was capped off by finding a confiding Red-throated Alethe, that gave us great looks, before slipping back into the undergrowth as quickly as it appeared. We settled in for a good meal, high in anticipation for tomorrow’s activities – the walk down to Mubwindi Swamp, an important and much anticipated birding day.
Day 7, 7th August 2021. Birding Ruhija – the Mubwindi Swamp walk
One of the most highly anticipated days of the tour began with a great start as a vocal African Wood Owl showed well for us in our lodge gardens, whilst enjoying our early breakfast. We were greeted to a cool, overcast day, and we set off for the long hike down to (and eventually back up from) the Mubwindi Swamp. The primary reason for visiting this swamp is for it being easily the most accessible and probably the only reliable place in the world to see the almost mythical Grauer’s Broadbill (formerly African Green Broadbill). Our timing this year was spot on, as a pair of adult Grauer’s Broadbills were on a nest and actively feeding their young. However, before we were to see these incredible birds, we first had to hike down, and we had an incredibly birdy and productive walk. Skulking Mountain Illadopsis kicked things off right as we got onto the trail, which were followed by the likes of White-headed Wood Hoopoe, Lühder’s Bushshrike, Stripe-breasted Tit, Black-throated Apalis, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Waller’s Starling, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher and Brown-capped Weaver. We spent a while trying to entice a vocal Grey-chested Babbler out of the thickets, but we could only glimpse the branches and leaves shaking moments after it left. A small party of Dusky Crimsonwings feeding in the open compensated for our brief views earlier in the morning, and we enjoyed repeat views of a number of other Albertine Rift endemics which we had become accustomed to over the previous few days – Rwenzori Batis, Mountain Masked and Rwenzori Apalises and Regal Sunbird, to mention a few. Eventually we got down into the range of the broadbill, and within no time, we were enjoying incredible views of the Grauer’s Broadbills, as the adults brought food for the hungry chicks and switched around regularly. We were able to track the birds as they went into the surrounding trees to feed, and we had sublime views of this rare and localized special!
An adult Grauer’s Broadbill about to jump into its nest and feed its chicks.
Next up was a quick trip to the actual Mubwindi Swamp, where we had excellent and prolonged looks at a number of Grauer’s Swamp Warblers – another major target for the area. Carruthers’s Cisticola and Western Citril were also in evidence, and while we were able to entice a pair of African Rails into the open, the calling Red-chested Flufftail wasn’t as cooperative. We had our lunch and relaxed in the shade, before starting the long journey back up the hill. We called in at the Grauer’s Broadbills once more, and again enjoyed watching these birds for a short while, before focusing on some of the other species. An ominous-looking cloud had rolled in, and shortly after finishing up with the broadbills, the rain started, and continued for some time, leaving the trail wet and slippery. This also put paid our efforts to continue birding our way back up the trail, but we persisted wherever there was a break in the rain. We were able to add the likes of Dusky Tit and enjoyed another Dwarf Honeyguide, but Lagden’s Bushshrike went by unseen once more, and Blue-headed Sunbird frustrated us as well, calling every so often, but going unseen despite our best efforts. We eventually made it back to the top, wet and tired, and took it easy for the rest of the afternoon. A short owling session after dinner produced a few Greater Thick-tailed Galagos, and some unidentified smaller galagos that sped away every time we got eyeshine, but the hoped-for Montane (Rwenzori) Nightjar was notable only by its absence.
Day 8, 8th August 2021. Transfer from Ruhija to Buhoma – birding en-route
Although the distance between Ruhija and Buhoma is fairly short, the drive takes some time due to the windy roads, and mainly, the incredible birding along the way. Our first stop was in some mixed farm bush habitat where we spent a long while searching for Dusky Twinspot. Try as we might, we just couldn’t find any birds, and had to make do with others such as Dusky Turtle Dove, Brown-backed Scrub Robin, small groups of Fawn-breasted and Yellow-bellied Waxbills and numbers of Yellow-crowned Canaries. We eventually had to make the call, and pressed onwards to ‘The Neck’ – a small section of forest that the main road passes through. Slowly walking the road is always birdy, and today was no exception, with a number of birds present and seen. A Cassin’s Flycatcher kicked things off, before we had a number of great looks at the stunning Black-faced Rufous Warbler. A fruiting fig held masses of Grey-throated and stunning Yellow-spotted Barbets, and some careful searching revealed the likes of Speckled Tinkerbird and White-breasted Nigrita. A flowering tree was alive with a small grouping of the localized and usually difficult-to-find Purple-breasted Sunbird – which we spent a while watching, eventually getting some great views of this scarce Albertine Rift endemic. Black Bee-eater was another major highlight along the roadside, while a bright flash of yellow and green revealed a stunning male African Emerald Cuckoo. We were able to entice a Lühder’s Bushshrike completely into the open, while the calling Many-colored Bushshrike refused to budge.
We eventually had to pull ourselves away, and pressed onwards to Buhoma, where we arrived at our fantastic lodge for a slightly late lunch. We resumed birding in the afternoon, with a short stint along the main Buhoma Trail, which was absolutely alive with birds as well. The difficult Grey-winged Robin-Chat showed very well, while Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat frustrated us by calling from deep within the thickets. An opportunistic stop for a pair of African Wood Owls superbly spotted by our local guide, Christopher, added Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher, Green Crombec and Toro Olive Greenbul. Right on the edge of the forest proper we bumped into a feeding party that was a bit of a frenzy – Brown-capped Weavers were actively feeding along the branches, before one morphed into a Kakamega Greenbul – a sought-after species. The stunning Red-headed Malimbe soon appeared and we were fixed on watching this snazzy bird moving about. Pink-footed Puffback, Plain and Red-tailed Greenbuls and Chestnut Wattle-eye were all added in quick succession, before we noted a Narrow-tailed Starling landing in the open and giving us great views. Thunder and the start of rain drops soon had us turned around and heading back for cover, and brought a close to a truly wonderful day.
Grey-winged Robin-Chat is one of a number of shy forest robins that can be seen around Buhoma.
Day 9, 9th August 2021. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Today was another highly anticipated day, as it was our day set aside for tracking Eastern Gorillas (formerly known as Mountain Gorilla) – easily one of the most memorable and truly wonderful wildlife experiences out there. A steady stream of rain greeted us in the morning, and initially had us concerned, but as it continued unabated, we could only roll with it. We set off after the ‘M’ (Mubare) Group – which involved a stiff hike up a long hill, which was tricky in the wet conditions. Pushing and pulling one another, we made it to the top, and soon found ourselves in the forest, and could hear the first grunting calls of the gorillas a short while later. The heavens seemed to be smiling on us, as the rain stopped right as our hour with these great apes began, and we were treated to incredible views and lifelong memories of our encounters with these wonderful creatures. Birding always falls secondary to the gorillas, but we were able to eke out species such as White-browed Coucal, Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Mackinnon’s Shrike and numbers of Western Citrils. Red-throated Wryneck and Brown Babbler greeted us when we arrived back at the car following our gorilla trekking experience, with the sun completely out now. We rested for a few hours, and set all our bags and clothes out to dry, before spending the last portion of the day birding some of the farmlands on the outskirts of Buhoma. It was a birdy afternoon and we enjoyed species such as Grey Crowned Crane, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Woodland Kingfisher, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, our first White-chinned Prinias (at long last), Black-throated Canary and numbers of sunbirds – namely Bronzy, Copper, Green-headed, Olive-bellied and Scarlet-chested. We capped off another excellent day with a hearty meal.
Tracking Eastern (Mountain) Gorillas is one of the ultimate wildlife experiences anywhere in the world!
Day 10, 10th August 2021. Birding Buhoma – Main Trail and surrounds
We had a full day birding the Main Trail, and some of the other smaller trails that loop off it, at Buhoma in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Our morning was a bit on the quiet side, with us only able to eke out sightings of Sooty Flycatcher and Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, before we lucked into a feeding party congregating around termites. Stunning views of Red-throated Alethe kicked things off, before White-tailed Ant Thrush and Red-tailed Bristlebill joined the party. An Equatorial Akalat left us wanting a bit more, but was compensated for by a number of other species such as Ansorge’s Greenbul and Elliot’s Woodpecker, and all to the backdrop of Chimpanzee’s calling in the distance. A short while later, we located a far more confiding Equatorial Akalat, and were also able to compare this to the similar White-bellied Robin-Chat – numbers of which we found throughout the day. One of our main targets on the trail is the shy and down-right difficult-to-see Neumann’s Warbler. We picked up on a calling bird in a good area, and with some careful positioning, we had the most incredible experience watching this skulking species flying, hopping and sitting, at length, a short distance away from us – giving us unobstructed views and even allowing for a few photos! Smiling from ear to ear, we continued on our way adding Blue-headed Sunbird (which we couldn’t obtain visuals of earlier around Ruhija), Mountain Wagtail, Jameson’s Antpecker, the stunning Bar-tailed Trogon and a showy pair of African Broadbills. Another major target is the recently described Willard’s Sooty Boubou, and after some time searching, we eventually heard a bird, and soon had the individual in our view and watched it for a short while! With two of the shyer and retiring specials of the area ‘out of the way’, we focused our remaining time on some of the other species in the afternoon, and just as we started making some progress, the clouds rolled in, the thunder started, and being pragmatic, we decided to make our way back towards the start of the trail to avoid the worst of the rain. Of course, we had a few birding stops on the way, enjoying even better views of Red-throated Alethe, this time an adult feeding an immature, and chasing a White-tailed Ant Thrush, as well as African Shrike-flycatcher, while Grey-chested Babbler and Chapin’s Flycatcher frustrated us by calling out of sight. The rain finally materialized on the journey back, and put paid to our late afternoon birding efforts. Nonetheless, we enjoyed a spectacular day birding with a great deal of highly sought-after birds seen, and our trip list continuing to grow!
A rare view of a Neumann’s Warbler. This Albertine Rift endemic is one of the main specials to be seen around Buhoma.
Day 11, 11th August 2021. Birding Queen Elizabeth National Park – the Ishasha sector
We left Buhoma early this morning, and made good ground to the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, arriving in the cool of the early morning. The first portion of the park was alive and full of birds. Bright Double-toothed Barbets were our first sighting, before we lucked onto a Scaly-thoated Honeyguide and saw the first of many Purple-banded Sunbirds of the day. Moustached Grass Warblers were vocal and showed well, while we were only able to pick up a single Fan-tailed Grassbird, which did also show well! This part of the park is perhaps most famous for its tree-climbing Lions. We spent a while trying to track them down, but they were conspicuous by their absence, with all of their regular haunts deserted. As we slowly explored the mix of grassy plains, acacia thornveld and mixed scrub we steadily built our list and enjoyed sightings of a showy African Crake, Black-bellied Bustard, Senegal Lapwing, African Cuckoo, White-headed Barbet, African Hoopoe and Black-lored Babbler, with immense numbers of both Flappet Larks and Croaking Cisticolas. Stout Cisticola took a while to find, but we eventually managed to track down a calling bird. Some wetlands held the massive Goliath Heron and the stunning Saddle-billed Stork, just as the raptors were beginning to take flight – with White-backed, White-headed and Lappet-faced Vultures, Bateleur, Brown Snake Eagle and Grey Kestrel all being sighted. We had our lunch overlooking the Ishasha River and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and were able to add various species to our DRC lists – including the likes of Ross’s Turaco and Crowned Hornbill. We made our way out of the park, and onwards to our comfortable lodge overlooking the Kazinga Channel, where we arrived in the late afternoon. We had a short break, before commencing with a walk around the lodge, adding our first African Blue Flycatcher and after some careful searching, the sought-after Forest Hog – which gave us good comparative looks, with the similar (and much smaller) Warthog close by. We had a short owling session after dinner, which produced a number of Square-tailed Nightjars and some close looks at Hippopotamus feeding on land. Another great end to a fantastic day, with a day list well over 100 species!
Day 12, 12th August 2021. Birding Queen Elizabeth National Park, and transfer to Kibale
We had an exciting day in store for us, as we set out to explore the northern parts of Queen Elizabeth National Park – first the Kasenyi Track, before undertaking a boat cruise along the Kazinga Channel. Our first obstacle was to navigate the temporary ferry in place across the Kazinga Channel (as the bridge was under repairs) – which took over 1.5 hours. Soon enough, we found ourselves driving within the dry grasslands dotted with Euphorbia thickets that dominate this section of Queen Elizabeth, enjoying the many birds and mammals that call this park home. We had a wonderful encounter with a large pride of Lions (including two small cubs) early on, and we spent a short while with these large cats! A bout of birding shortly afterwards produced a few new birds such as Collared Pratincole, Kittlitz’s Plover and Quailfinch. A small pan held a Ugandan rarity, Temminck’s Stint, along with the larger Black-winged Stilt, before we lucked onto a Leopard! The cat was in full ‘stalk’ mode, and had a firm eye on some completely unaware Kob feeding close by. We spent a while watching this majestic cat, as it went about stalking the Kob, before it disappeared from view, presumably waiting from a concealed position to pounce. Sadly, no further action was to happen, and we had to pull ourselves away and continue with our drive. A good sighting of an African Crake, along with others such as Mourning Collared Dove and Black-lored Babbler were some species of interest, while one of the many crater lakes in the area held a large flock of Lesser Flamingos. All too soon, our time had expired, and we had to make our way onwards to catch our private boat for a journey along the Kazinga Channel.
The boat trip is always exciting, and hosts excellent birding, and this trip was no different. Vast numbers of Pied Kingfishers were seen early on, before we enjoyed a large flock of African Skimmers roosting in between masses of African Elephants, African Buffalos and Hippopotamuses. We were also lucky to observe a Forest Hog bathing on the edge of the channel. Exploring various areas along the channel added a wide range of waterbirds including various herons, egrets, cormorants and kingfishers, with some of the more special sightings being a large flock of both Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans (giving great comparative views), a Goliath Heron eating a fish, Gull-billed Tern, Ruff and a stunning and rare dark-morph Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle flying overhead. Following a lunch break (and having one of our tires repaired) we continued on our way to Kibale Forest, where we arrived in the late afternoon, and settled into our comfortable accommodations, with anticipation building for the following day.
A Lioness looks out over the plains of Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Day 13, 13th August 2021. The Green-breasted Pitta and Chimpanzee combo in Kibale
Our full day in and around Kibale Forest National Park is another of the hotly anticipated days, as we go in search of Green-breasted Pitta (which is a rare, poorly-known and highly sought-after central African species) along with our Chimpanzee tracking. We started off early in the morning, as we ventured into the forest in search of the pitta. We headed to a known territory, and it took a long while of searching, but we eventually managed to track one down, and spent a short while following a Green-breasted Pitta. After having had our fill, we left the bird in peace and shifted our attention to another target – Red-chested Owlet. Our excellent local guide had recently found a site for this prized species, and with a bit of searching we eventually struck gold, and spotted the Red-chested Owlet perched in the canopy, and enjoyed great looks at this scarce species! We heard that the first group tracking chimps had found two more Green-breasted Pittas, and we couldn’t resist to try for further looks. This time, it was almost a bit too easy, as we found the birds soon after, and enjoyed some further great looks at this incredible species! We couldn’t have asked for better encounters of this highly sought-after species! We then focused our attention on some of the other species in the forest, adding the likes of Blue Malkoha, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Yellow-crested Woodpecker and the shy Brown-chested Alethe. White-throated Greenbul frustrated us by remaining out of sight.
With dark clouds building up, and rain in the air, we shifted our focus onto the Chimpanzees, and went off in search of a nearby family. Although we had to cover some distance in a short space of time, it was easy to keep tabs with the Chimpanzees as they were incredibly vocal. We soon found ourselves in the midst of the Chimpanzees as they were feeding on some fruiting trees, and they put on a spectacular show for us – made all the better with their interactions and excited calling. We enjoyed some fantastic, close encounters with these great apes that will stick with us for some time. We had to cut our time with them short as the heavens opened up, and we scampered off to our car, and then back to our lodge, just in time for lunch and an afternoon rest.
We resumed our birding later in the afternoon, with birding some of the forest edge habitats and along the main road running through the forest. Things were slow initially, but picked up, and we enjoyed a fruitful afternoon with some great birds! Bare trees held Black Bee-eater, Grey-throated Barbet, Yellow-crested Woodpecker and both Purple-headed and Chestnut-winged Starlings, while numbers of Alpine and Mottled Swifts moved overhead in a mixed flock. Western Oriole finally obliged, and a surprise White-naped Pigeon flying overhead was a very welcome addition. We ended the day off in a flurry – first with excellent views of Blue-throated Roller, followed by two Cassin’s Honeybirds, and then both Superb and Blue-throated Brown Sunbirds. Content with our day (and still reeling from the pittas and chimpanzees), we settled in for the evening.
Green-breasted Pitta is one of the rarest and most sought-after African birds – after a long search, we were rewarded with great views!
Day 14, 14th August 2021. Birding Kibale, and transfer to Masindi
We had a full morning at our disposal to bird around Kibale, and concentrated our efforts at the wonderful Bigodi Swamp community area, and its network of trails. The morning was unfortunately one of those slow days, and while we accumulated a fairly high species list, the new birds were few and far between. We did enjoy multiple good looks at the scarce Magpie Mannikin, a few groups of Compact Weavers and a single Buff-spotted Woodpecker, while species such as Shining Blue Kingfisher, Jameson’s Wattle-eye and Brown Illadopsis all frustrated us by remaining unseen. We ended our morning off with a Red-headed Bluebill which didn’t hang around for too long, and the stunning Yellow-billed Barbet. We were also finally able to get looks at Grey-cheeked Mangabey and Ashy Red Colobus here. Following a quick lunch break, we gathered our belongings and headed back for another try for a few more species, and succeeded only in adding Hairy-breasted Barbet. Contrary to the morning, we successfully found (and enjoyed excellent looks at) both the scarce Lowland Masked Apalis and shy Highland Rush Warbler in no time, on our way out. We then settled in for the long drive to Masindi, which takes significantly quicker than it used to with the new tarred road for the entire length of the journey. We arrived shortly after dark, and settled in for the evening at our wonderful old-school colonial hotel.
Day 15, 15th August 2021. Birding the Royal Mile, and transfer to Murchison Falls
In stark contrast to yesterday, today was one of those incredible birding days! We started our day off in the farm bush just outside the Budongo Forest in the early morning, where we quickly picked up a host of exciting species including our two main targets, Brown Twinspot and Grey-headed Oliveback. A host of other species were around, including African Yellow Warbler, Short-winged Cisticola, Black Bishop, African Firefinch and Cabanis’s Bunting. We then progressed into the Budongo Forest, and more specifically along the ‘Royal Mile’ – so named for being a one-mile stretch of road that runs straight as an arrow, through the majestic forest, which the old kings of the Bunyoro Kingdom used as training grounds. We slowly progressed along the track, exploring various bouts of activity along with searching for some of the specials of the forest, and the birds kept on rolling in. We started off with the likes of Brown Illadopsis, Grey Longbill and great views of the shy Red-tailed Ant Thrush, before we picked up on an African Dwarf Kingfisher in the canopy.
The tiny African Dwarf Kingfisher is a major target whilst birding the Royal Mile.
Both Chocolate-backed Kingfisher and Forest Robin took a lot of effort to lay eyes on, but we were successful on both fronts. Various other specials of the forest such as White-thighed Hornbill, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher and Fraser’s Forest Flycatcher all obliged, and just before breaking for lunch we finally located a calling Ituri Batis high in the canopy. Our post-lunch birding session resumed right where we left off, with us quickly adding the likes of Spotted Greenbul and Crested Malimbe, while also enjoying a stunning perched Crowned Eagle with an unfortunate severed Blue Monkey arm in its talons. No matter how many times we tried, Fire-crested Alethe and Scaly-breasted Illadopsis refused to show. The tiny Lemon-bellied Crombec rounded off our time in the forest. A quick spell in some of the farmlands outside of the forest gave up Whistling Cisticola and Marsh Tchagra, before we pressed onwards to the Butiaba Escarpment. We did a bout of birding around the escarpment, but with the sun blazing down, activity was low however we succeeded in adding Foxy Cisticola, Western Violet-backed Sunbird, the incredible Beautiful Sunbird, and another Ugandan rarity – Cut-throat Finch. With a bit of ground still to cover, we spent the remainder of the afternoon driving, and arrived at our comfortable lodge overlooking the Nile River in the late afternoon. We settled in for the evening, enjoying all with a Nile beer in hand, on the Nile River!
Day 16, 16th August 2021. Birding Murchison Falls – Paraa to the Albert Nile
We had a full day to explore the northern section of Murchison Falls National Park – beginning at Paraa and continuing up to the Albert Nile and the Nile River Delta area, before returning back. A new bridge over the Nile River meant there was no issue trying to catch the ferry across and allowed us to begin on our own time. The morning started off cool, overcast and windy, with a hint of rain in the air, and as such things were slow. A pair of Abyssinian Ground Hornbills were the first to show, and we enjoyed great looks, before also working out our first Silverbird and a small group of Senegal Thick-knees. Gradually the weather improved, and the sun started to come out, and the activity increased dramatically. On the open plains, vast herds of Kob roamed, dotted with numbers of African Buffalo, (Rothschild’s) Giraffe, (Lelwel) Hartebeest and Oribi, with equally impressive numbers of Piapiacs present between the animals as well. Small groups of Shelley’s Sparrows and Speckle-fronted Weavers delighted us, before we found our first Northern Carmine Bee-eater. We spent some time with these incredible show-stoppers, and enjoyed many more as our day went along. The plains also held both Black-bellied and Denham’s Bustards and the strange Patas Monkey. More wooded areas produced the likes of Heuglin’s Francolin, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Spotted Palm Thrush and Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, along with not one, but two Leopards up trees within sight of one another – one of them with a recent Kob kill! Both of these cats were cooling off out of the now warm sun, and gave us splendid views! We had been incredibly fortunate on this trip so far to have seen Leopards in both Lake Mburo and Queen Elizabeth National Parks as well as here – totaling four different Leopard sightings!
A stop for our lunch along the Nile River netted us Black-headed Lapwing (amongst many other waterbirds) and immense numbers of African Elephants, before we slowly started working our way back. It was fairly slow going with the mercury rising, but we plugged away and added the likes of Rüppell’s Vulture, Tawny Eagle, Black-billed Wood Dove, African Grey Woodpecker, Black Scimitarbill, Black-billed Barbet, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver and Vitelline Masked Weaver, amongst others. Just before crossing the Nile River at Paraa once more, we found Red-throated Bee-eater and had great looks at this beautiful species! An afternoon rest and some refreshing gin and tonics were in order after arriving back at our lodge, and a short walk around the grounds in the early evening produced a flyby Red-necked Falcon, rounding off a superb day with in excess of 130 species seen.
Massive Abyssinian Ground Hornbills roam the open grasslands of Murchison Falls.
Day 17, 17th August 2021. Birding Murchison Falls – Murchison Falls and the Nile River
Today we awoke to a scorcher of a day, and rapidly headed out to get some birding in while there was still some activity. We patrolled the area around our lodge and were rewarded with quite a lot of birds, with some of the highlights being Red-winged Grey Warbler, Western Black-headed Batis and Red-headed Weaver, amongst others. We spent the better part of the morning hunting high and low for White-crested Turaco and Dusky Babbler, but were unsuccessful on both fronts sadly. A trip to the top of the actual Murchison Falls provided us with incredible views of the very high river plunging through a tiny gap – the immense force was clearly evident. We were also provided with a brief respite from the heat with a cool mist coming from the falls. With bird activity low, and the mercury at an almost unbearable point, we came back to our lodge for lunch and a quick rest. An afternoon boat trip was on the cards for our afternoon, and we enjoyed a pleasant trip up to the base of the Murchison Falls and back. The very high level of the Victoria Nile meant that most of the usual banks and wetland verges were all totally submerged and waterbirds were generally pretty scarce with low numbers of White-faced Whistling Duck, African Jacana, Black Crake, Purple Heron and African Openbill about all that was present. We did notch up repeat views of Senegal Thick-knee, and enjoyed watching a young Bat Hawk, though the immense numbers of Red-throated Bee-eaters were surely the main attraction. We enjoyed a lovely meal with views of the sun setting over the Nile, before venturing out for a night drive. We had a short and sharp rain shower in the early evening but this didn’t deter the birds, and to put it simply, we had the most exciting night drive filled with loads of nightjars! First up was a Square-tailed Nightjar, before we found an exciting Slender-tailed Nightjar, and then enjoyed good and multiple views of both these species. Black-shouldered Nightjar followed, and we capped things off with an incredible Long-tailed Nightjar which gave us splendid views!
Long-tailed Nightjar was one of four nightjar species, and a major highlight on our night drive!
Day 18, 18th August 2021. Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, and transfer to Entebbe
Today was the last full day of our tour, and it began nice and early with two vocal Greyish Eagle-Owls, which showed wonderfully around our lodge before breakfast. We checked out and made our way through the park, and onwards to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, where we would spend our morning. A quick stop in the Kanyiyo Pabidi section of the Murchison Falls National Park/Budongo Forest, yielded a calling Puvel’s Illadopsis, but in the brief period we had to try, we could not obtain visuals. As its name suggests, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is famous as being the only reserve (or place for that matter) in Uganda that has rhinos of any species – and are of course the main attraction. At present the reserve hosts some 30+ White Rhinoceros, and once the number grows a bit, there are plans in place to reintroduce this species to some of the other parks in the country. We had a great time tracking a number of these incredibly special animals, and enjoyed some close encounters with the White Rhinoceroses here. This is also a birdy reserve, and home to another of our main targets for the whole tour – White-crested Turaco. We had spent a while searching in and around Murchison Falls National Park, and it was with some immense satisfaction that we were able to enjoy good and prolonged looks at this very attractive turaco (surely the most attractive in the entire family?), with White Rhinoceroses on either side of us. A flock of White-throated Bee-eaters were a welcome sight – another species we had been searching for high and low without success until now. Other species of interest seen here included Western Banded Snake Eagle, European Honey Buzzard, Lesser Blue-eared Starling and the sought-after and localized Marsh Widowbird. All too soon, we were on the road back to Entebbe, where we arrived in the afternoon, and relaxed for the remainder of the day. Western Barn Owl and a surprise Freckled Nightjar were added to our ever-growing list after dinner.
Day 19, 19th August 2021. Birding Lake Victoria, and departure
With evening departures, we had practically a full day at our disposal, and opted to spend the first part of the day birding, before getting ready for our departure during the afternoon. We spent the morning taking a boat trip out into the Lutembe Bay Wetland, which is a Ramsar Site. As with most of the water sources in the country, the water level of Lake Victoria was high, covering up the majority of the sandbars and marshy areas, but we still enjoyed a fruitful session. Spur-winged Goose and White-faced Whistling Duck were present, and Purple and Grey Herons and Little and Great Egrets dotted the edges. The open sand bars held masses of Grey-headed Gulls, and careful scanning through them revealed small numbers of scarce Slender-billed Gulls, and a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls (including one individual of the ‘barabensis’ subspecies, known as ‘Steppe Gull’). Gull-billed and White-winged Terns were also scattered between. Small numbers of shorebirds were present, and we managed to pick up Wood, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stint and Common Greenshank. Other species of interest seen included better looks at White-throated Bee-eater, African Marsh Harrier and Little Sparrowhawk. Following a good and relaxed lunch, we double-checked the lists, relaxed and reminisced one last time, before gathering our things and bidding our farewells in the evening, following an exciting and successful 19 days birding through Uganda!
Northern Carmine Bee-eaters are one of the many glorious members of this family that can be seen in Uganda – this particular bird showing well at Murchison Falls National Park.
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.
‘This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The birding was intense but fun. There was a relaxed atmosphere despite the intense birding. My partner, a birding novice, loved the trip. We did the optional gorilla and chimp trekking – both well worth doing.’