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 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.
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.